The Story of Bodri – written by Hédi Fried, illustrated by Stina Wirsén
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2021 (Originally published in Sweden, 2019)

This is an unusual book and it requires both courage and sensitivity to share with children. The author, Hédi Fried, (1924-2022) was a survivor of both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She became a psychologist, and lectured widely about her own experiences and their implications for the world. The first-person narrator of The Story of Bodri is a child, explaining the persecution and imprisonment she suffers and her ultimate liberation. Bodri is her dog; they are separated when the Nazis inflict the Final Solution on Europe’s Jews. I would not suggest reading this with children of the narrator’s age; they are too young. It would be appropriate for older readers, educators, and other people who work with children. The book’s subtle combination of revealing truths too horrible for children to contemplate, and revealing those truths from the perspective of a child, is compelling.

Like many Holocaust accounts, it begins in a normal home of loving family members and a sense of security. Bodri, the Hédi’s pet, is a guard dog who protects the community. Because the narrator’s voice is convincing, there is no irony in her innocent statement that “…I knew Bodri was watching over our family and our little town.”  Hédi’s best friend, Marika, is just like her, in the way that children describe intensely close friendships. There is only one difference. “I was Jewish. Marika wasn’t.” 

Hédi’s life is shattered when Hitler comes to power. Unlike the vast majority of picture books illustrators, Stina Wirsén has chosen to directly portray the dictator. His horrifying face emerges from the radio in a dark cloud. It appears again, even larger in scale, looming behind the terrified girl and her mother as they walk with arms raised, at gunpoint. Once Hédi and her sister are interned, Fried’s description is a careful distillation of the facts, while still avoiding some of the most terrifying truths. The prisoners are cold, hungry, thirsty, scared. Their uniforms are dirty and their shoes, hard wooden clogs. Wirsén’s picture shows emaciated figures with shaved heads standing behind barbed wire. Descriptions of the actual mass murders are avoided, but neither words nor pictures are sanitized.

The illustrations have a tremendous impact because of Wirsén’s delicate use of watercolor and ink, as well as digital media, to express the whole range of Fried’s experiences. Her happy family is first rendered in light green and deep yellows, with Bodri a reassuringly solid dark brown. Then, dark clouds of color explode over their home. A scene of beauty in a public park is punctuated by a sign on the bench reading “Für Juden verboten. No Jews allowed.” Later, when the Nazis have been defeated, Bodri sits under a tree with deep green leaves, which turn to “copper-red autumn robes” as the season changes. The natural world has remained a constant while the world of human-caused horrors was buried in devastation. Adjacent pages show Hédi and her younger sister as inmates, and then as girls again in flowered dresses. They will never be the same as they were before the tragedy; this is not a Holocaust book that ends on a false note of hope. Fried’s simple statement of purpose, “So that it will never happen again,” is directed at the future, although it cannot change the past.

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