This past month I read Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Wonder is a contemporary middle-grade novel about Auggie, a young boy with a severe facial deformity who enters middle school after years of being schooled at home. The book is told from several different perspectives, including Auggie, his sister, and some of the kids he meets at Beecher Prep.
For the record, I have not read many middle grade books since, um, I was maybe ten. But this book caught my interest, particularly because it earned a Beehive Book Award (an honor bestowed by the great state of Utah), and because I caught an interview with the author on NPR. The book is certainly worthy of the recognition it has received. The narrators struck me as sincere and genuine, and while the subject matter was heart-wrenching at times, Palacio balanced the story with a healthy dose of humor.
The dominant theme of the novel is that of kindness. In fact, Auggie's English teacher structures his class around a monthly "precept," the first of which is: "When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind." Summer, a pretty girl who genuinely befriends Auggie, personifies this precept throughout the story. She is the kind of character that made me hope I would react exactly like her if placed in a similar situation - and hopeful that I am teaching my own children to behave with kindness as well.
The most striking thing I heard in Palacio's interview on NPR was when she described the inspiration for the novel. She was at an ice cream parlor with her three-year old son, when she noticed a young girl with a severe facial deformity at the table next to them. Palacio said when her son noticed the girl, he started to cry. In her own words:
"I hurriedly tried to push him away in the stroller, not for his sake but to avoid hurting the girl's feelings, and in my haste I caused my older son to spill the shakes, and, well, it was quite a scene—the opposite of what I had hoped for. But as I pushed my younger son’s stroller away I heard the little girls’ mom say, in as sweet and calm a voice as you can imagine: “Okay, guys, I think it’s time to go.” And that just got to me."
I guess knowing the back story and then reading the novel, I was struck by the way that fiction allows us, in a way, to revise and edit our own narratives. Palacio certainly did with Wonder.
'She is the kind of character that made me hope I would react exactly like her if placed in a similar situation - and hopeful that I am teaching my own children to behave with kindness as well.'ReplyDelete
As for this:
'fiction allows us, in a way, to revise and edit our own narratives.'
And our narratives as a human family. Have you watched Saving Mr. Banks?
Also, welcome. :) :)
Yes, I did see Saving Mr. Banks. I concur :)Delete
And I hope I didn't minimize middle-grade fiction by stating that I don't read much of it. Some of the most powerful, formative fiction I've ever read has been middle grade...
Same! (About MG fic.)Delete
Dude, you need to, like, post more an' stuff ...
Sounds like an excellent read for kids in the lesson of not judging by a first appearance. My stepson did not have any deformities, but due to his condition we did have children staring at him every now and then, and several times we had to have a quiet word with the parents. We used to tell our girls that it was because he was so handsome (true, of course!)ReplyDelete
Oh, Nick, thank you for sharing this with me. I think one of the best lessons I learned from reading this book is that it is better to engage with someone than stare and walk away. I loved that she put us into the head of Auggie and showed us his reactions to other people - and that he definitely noticed the double-takes and walks away...Delete
I'm not sure why, but for a while I was getting Wonder and The Fault in Our Stars mixed up because the covers were kinda similar. But when I look at them next to each other, they aren't all that similar except for the colors. Either way, they've both been on my TBR list for a while--I just can't seem to get to them!ReplyDelete
It sounds as though it might be heart wrenching but positive as well. I'll certainly look out for this book although middle grade isn't my first choice of reading matter.ReplyDelete
This sounds like an excellent book for some of my grandchildren. Thanks! And, um, I might just have to read it myself before giving it to them. (Hey! It's my duty to know what I'm giving them, right?)ReplyDelete
Welcome to the Coffeehouse, Kim! Pull up a chair. I'll now have Abbey Road running through my head the rest of the day...ReplyDelete
Wonder has been quite the publishing sensation. It recently won an award here in Vermont, too: the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award. I haven't read it but my daughter has and she really enjoyed it.
I'm getting it. Too many people have told me they loved it. Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
I read this awhile back and loved it. Such a powerful story, one that I'll probably reread.ReplyDelete
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It really is a wonderful book that I recommend to middle schoolers on a regular basis (I work in a bookstore ).ReplyDelete