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Children's Fiction Historical

Maurice and His Dictionary

A True Story

by (author) Cary Fagan

illustrated by Enzo Lord Mariano

Owlkids Books Inc.
Initial publish date
Oct 2020
Historical, School & Education, General, Holocaust
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2020
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 8 to 12
  • Grade: 5 to 12


This is the story of one refugee family’s harrowing journey, based on author Cary Fagan’s own family history. The graphic novel follows a young Jewish boy, Maurice, and his family as they flee their home in Belgium during the Second World War. They travel by train to Paris, through Spain to Portugal, and finally across the ocean to Jamaica, where they settle in an internment camp.

All the while, Maurice is intent on continuing his education and growing up to be a lawyer. He overcomes obstacles to find a professor to study with, works toward a high school diploma while in the camp, and is ultimately accepted to university in Canada. His English dictionary becomes a beloved tool and beacon of hope through the danger and turmoil of the family’s migration.

Moments of lightness and humor balance the darkness in this powerful story of one refugee family’s courage and resilience, and of the dictionary that came to represent their freedom.

About the authors

Cary Fagan is the author of eight previous novels and five books of short stories, including The Student, Great Adventures for the Faint of Heart, and A Bird's Eye. He has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Writers' Trust Fiction Award, the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, and has won the Toronto Book Award and the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. He is also an acclaimed writer of books for children, having won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the IODE Jean Throop Book Award, a Mr. Christie Silver Medal, the Joan Betty Stuchner—Oy Vey!—Funniest Children's Book Award, and the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People. Fagan's work has been translated into French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Catalan, Turkish, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Korean and Persian. He still lives in his hometown of Toronto.

Cary Fagan's profile page

ENZO LORD MARIANO is an illustrator and musician living in Montreal, Quebec. He discovered the magic of illustration when he was a child, and was bitten by the music bug as a teenager. He doesn’t leave the house without a pencil in his pocket and a mandolin strapped to his back.


Enzo Lord Mariano's profile page


  • Short-listed, Rocky Mountain Book Award
  • Commended, A USBBY Outstanding International Books List selection
  • Commended, Best Books for Kids and Teens (starred selection)
  • Commended, A Loan Stars Jr. Pick for October/November
  • Commended, A Junior Library Guild Selection

Editorial Reviews

"A moving account in which a child’s thirst for knowledge is a source of hope against a dismal, war-torn backdrop... the book also maintains the humor and joy that come from a strong, caring support system."

Foreword Reviews

"This powerful historical graphic retelling... grabs the attention and hearts of the readers."

Association of Jewish Libraries News and Reviews

"The graphic-novel format is well suited to this emotionally layered survivor’s account... Expertly paced panels simultaneously convey the gripping, close-up immediacy of the family’s experiences."

Quill & Quire

"Based on Fagan’s grandfather’s experiences, the anecdotal-feeling narration straightforwardly conveys the family’s fear, uncertainty, determination, and love."

Publishers Weekly

"A little bit of luck, the kindness of strangers, and a teenage boy’s perseverance drive this elegant story set during the Holocaust... Maurice’s journey teaches readers to never give up."

Kirkus Reviews

"[The] narrative emphasizes hope amid ceaseless uncertainty, with small acts of kindness... Succinct and sincere; another ­accessible middle grade window into World War II."

School Library Journal

"An important story, well told and depicted."

Canadian Review of Materials

"There is a del­i­cate bal­ance between real­is­ti­cal­ly depict­ing the worst of human nature and empha­siz­ing people’s abil­i­ty to adapt and sur­vive... Mau­rice and His Dic­tio­nary is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed."

Jewish Book Council

"An especially recommended addition to family, elementary school, and community library collections."

Midwest Book Review

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