Now that the Cybils Awards have been announced, and the gag-order lifted for the judges, I can’t wait to share with you some middle grade books that crossed my radar during this process. Some were new to me, and others were rereads that I got something different out of the second time around. So over the next few weeks, you’ll see a series of these “fresh” reviews.
Let’s start with the winner, shall we?
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Published by:Knopf Books
Release date: February 2012
Ages: 10 and up
From the publisher:
I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face.
I first read Wonder in March of last year, not too long after it was released. Like so many others, I was deeply touched by Palacio’s style and her ability to weave a story about a character I wanted to simultaneously protect, cheer, and encourage (this is, I suppose, the result of reading this story as both a mother and a teacher). At the time, I posted this review on both the blog and Goodreads:
Wonderful (the obvious pun). And a little sad. And definitely inspiring. And makes me want to send out great big, giant hugs to all the Auggie’s of the world. Many years ago, while in college, I helped coach a Special Olympics swim team during the school year, and then worked two summers at a camp for kids with special needs, many of them severe. But you know? Some of the absolute biggest hearts of any child I’ve ever worked with. I loved this book for its multiple perspectives, its sarcastic humor and its overall empowerment.
None of that has changed. You can also read the review our group came up with when selecting Wonder for the Cybils here.
But what has changed since my original reading is my perception of who this book will reach. Initially, I actually saw it as a book that should fall into the hands of current and preparing educators. Teachers who might need a fresh view into the minds of their students, both those with physical/emotional challenges, and those who are the classmates of those students. Wonder is raw in its description of how students interact with each other. Palacio does not write a sugar-coated story. She recognizes that being a middle schooler, especially one with a severe physical deformity, is tough. Some teachers need that reminder.
What has amazed me, and what I didn’t originally forsee, is the student reaction to this novel. Quite simply, all the evidence I’ve seen is that students are relating to this book. It’s not just teachers “preaching” an anti-bullying message to their students, but students absorbing Auggie, his parents, his sister, his classmate. They see themselves, they see their peers, they see their schools. Maybe they are the bullied child. Or the bully. Or the brave friend. Or the sibling. Whatever it is, students are devouring this story and having discussions on how to choose kind.
A book that has children discussing how to be kinder to one another?
How can you not celebrate that?
If you’ve read the story once, but it has been some time, I encourage you to read the story again. If you missed it the first time around, I urge you to find a copy and allow Auggie, Summer and Jack to be part of your life.
If you’re on Twitter, you can join the conversation at #choosekind or #thewonderofwonder