The Wonder of “Wonder”

October 5, 2012

It was a lucky thing that I became a teacher, because I’ve always loved to read, and I’ve always loved children’s books.  Before I had a child, I had entire bookcases full of children’s books, but because I was a teacher, it didn’t strike folks as odd.

As a teacher, a mom, and a reader, I love to keep up with new books.  In the spring, I read good reviews of a book called “Wonder” and made a mental note.  Over spring break, I borrowed it from the local library and sat down to read.  I was enthralled.  I laughed.  I cried.  I didn’t want to the book to end.  I wanted to know more about the characters and what might happen to them.

And when I read a book and love it, I want to share it.  I decided it would make a great spring read-aloud with my advisee group (4th and 5th graders, a good age for the book).

They loved it.  Like me, they developed strong opinions about the characters, but then those opinions shifted throughout different parts of the story.  By the end (when I was crying again — and they’re used to me crying when I read and are very kind and supportive, bringing me water and tissues), we loved these characters.

Given the emphasis we place on community, friendship, being an “upstander,” being a mensch, etc., at our school and in our unit, I thought this would make an excellent summer read for our students.  My team of five teachers were meeting to discuss the summer work;  I said I thought we should have all the students read “Wonder,” which no one besides me had read.  Luckily, my teammates trusted my knowledge of children’s books and my impassioned plea.  We required all incoming 4th/5th grade students to read “Wonder” over the summer and answer (on a notecard) one of several questions (their choice) about it.

Here are some examples from written responses to these questions:

August and Jack have a really nice relationship, where they can trust each other and always have each other’s back.

August and Miranda are deep friends and think the best of each other.  They are like siblings (who like each other).

Julian and Jack are having a war.

Because I have arthritis, I can relate to Auggie.  It can disable me in some ways, but I manage!  I have MRIs just like August has hearing tests.

I think I relate to Via because I have a friend and I think we’ve had a misunderstanding.  She is not as close to me anymore.  Just like Via and Miranda.

And this is just what they’ve gotten out of the book on their own!  We are beginning to have small-group discussions about the book, and there are so many interesting thoughts the students have.  Although my students don’t have Auggie’s rare condition, they can relate to having a friend who does something really mean, or being a friend who makes a big mistake and wants to apologize.  They are experiencing (sometimes for the first time at this age) the shifting in friendships, and how sometimes even two people who are both lovely people can drift apart over time through no particular fault.  They have experienced cruelty and are trying to navigate what to do when these things happen.  “Wonder” is a fabulous book that allows all of these issues to be discussed without having to force a child to bare his or her soul in the discussion.  A kid can talk about what it must feel like to be in August’s shoes without having to say, “Someone was mean to me once and it really hurt.”  What a great common reading!

Thank you, R.J. Palacio, for writing a book that has resonated with so many students this year.

p.s.  I also shared it with my son.  At his school this year, some hearing-impaired students have been mainstreamed for part of the day into his classroom.  I was able to get him to think about Auggie in “Wonder” to help him see the experience from their perspective and to help him be more empathic.

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One Response to “The Wonder of “Wonder””

  1. Deb Tyo said

    Thanks for sharing this post on the Wonder blog tour!

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