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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Wonder

It's a new quarter in the school year and this quarter my kids and I will be reading Wonder, a book for tweens written by R.J. Palacio. I hadn't heard of it before, but the other two sixth-grade teachers in my school raved about it, so now it's my turn. I read it over the past few days and it's just lovely.

The book is narrated by several different characters, but it's all about Auggie, a fifth-grader who has severe facial deformities. He's been home-schooled, but his parents think it's time for him to go to school. He attends a private school where the principal is fully behind him. But of course Auggie has fears. Here's how the book begins: "I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go."

Wonder covers Auggie's year at school. We also get the perspective of his older sister, Via, who loves him but has just started high school and doesn't want to be labeled as the girl with the weird-looking brother. We also hear from the kids who befriend Auggie, risking their own popularity. The multiple narrators helps kids learn that we can't judge people unless we walk a mile in their shoes, or at least spend a chapter in their thoughts.

The book has a villain, named Julian, and later editions of the book have a chapter from his point of view. Unfortunately my edition does not have that one, because he does kind of disappear from the book.

I'll be interested in how my kids react to the book. This book is all about white people, and my class is almost entirely black and Hispanic. But some things about kids are universal, especially concerning a dying dog. I think the most important message is the absolute need for kindness. I got choked up at the principal's speech at the end:

"Kinder than is necessary. Because it is not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Why I love that line, that concept, is that it reminds me that we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness."

I recommend this book for all appropriate ages, which range from about 8 to 108.

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