Ruth, Bonnie, Kevin and so many others have sliced about R.J.Palacio’s “Wonder”, that anything I say is probably superfluous, but the book is very much on my mind…so here goes…
As a middle school teacher, I read as much YA fiction and nonfiction as I can get my hands on and fit into everything else that I need to do. Sometimes, a student or a YA website or a teacher will say, “you’ve GOT to read this!” and so I do. Sometimes, I get about halfway through this must-read book and think, I know where this is going, I get it..but I don’t want to spend any more time reading this”..and so I put it away. Other times, I’m hooked; it doesn’t matter that I’m a 50+-year-old- teacher-who-has-been-through-life, I keep reading because something in the book speaks to me as the truth, and I want to know/need to know where the story goes. “Wonder” is that second type of book.
The flap copy summary of “Wonder” reads:
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
But this is not simply a book about fitting in and finding your place in middle school; “Wonder” transcends most middle school stories about those sorts of things because (I think) it gets at something all of us struggle with, whether we are twelve or way more than that – it’s the idea of kindness, of reaching into ourselves for kindness even when it is not easy or convenient or even readily apparent as to how one can be kind in a given situation. Palacio herself talks about this here:
What made “Wonder” stand out for me is how well Palacio depicted this struggle, and how she was able to illustrate that it takes all of us: kids, teachers, administrators and parents working together (and, yes, struggling with ourselves in order to do so) to ensure that true kindness finds its way into our lives, and has an impact on our lives. None of the characters in this book are perfect – not Auggie, his sister, his parents, his friends or his principal – but they do find a way to perfect their practice of kindness. And this is really what I found most moving and authentic in this book.
There was an amazing chapter in “Wonder” which described the arc of action in a sequence of text messages and emails, starting with a snarky email sent from one parent to the principal, complete with their important business title, all sorts of self serving references to “”what’s in the best interests of our children” and to the law (how many of us as teachers get several of these per week?!). How the principal and some parents respond is a moving example of kindness (and wisdom) in action. And … kindness wins out!
I loved the quotes at the beginning of each chapter that nudged me into thinking before reading on…here’s one, from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince”:
Now here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
I read that, thought about it, and was ready (truly) for the chapter that followed. I can see my kids doing the same.
One particular passage in Wonder” really stayed with me, I’ve copied it out onto an index card for my bulletin board so I have it right where I can see it:
my head swirls on this, but then softer thoughts soothe, like a flatted third on a major chord. no, no, it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see….maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.
What a hopeful thought we can all hold on to!
Here is the book trailer for “Wonder” – in case you haven’t seen it elsewhere:
Here is the author reading a chapter:
Another bonus to “Wonder” is that it introduced me to a fabulous singer I had never heard of before, Natalie Merchant, lines from whose song “wonder” grace the first page of the book. Here is that song, enjoy!