The Wonder of WONDER

Once in a while a book comes along that isn’t just good, isn’t just entertaining, isn’t just thought-provoking.

It’s life-changing.

Wonder is that book.

That is why I had to go buy my own personal copy.

That is why, no matter how long it takes to finish, I am starting it as a read-aloud today.

Wonder should be required reading for every human.

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August (Auggie) Pullman has a genetic condition, a gene mutation, that “made war on his face”. Because of this, his life is different than that of other kids his age. The narration in the trailer above is the first couple paragraphs of the book. The first section ends with:

My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

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Wonder is told primarily from Auggie’s point of view, but other characters get turns at moving the story along. Eye-opening accounts are given by his sister Via, his new school acquaintances Jack and Summer, and Via’s boyfriend Justin.

Will Auggie fit in at his new school–the first school experience of his life? How will the other kids–and teachers–respond to this kid who is so different from others around him? How will Auggie show those around him he’s really not that different?

More than anything, I read this book through the lens of my past experiences. I wish I could say I have never made fun of another person; that I never eyed up someone who looked different–but I have.

I wish I could say that I was always kind to others; that I went out of my way to welcome and embrace those who are different, whether it be inside or out–but I haven’t. And that shames me.

Wonder reminded me of every social error I made. It reminded me of the times I prejudged, of the times when I saw a weakness and exposed it instead caring for it. I suppose as a teacher I’m not supposed to let on that I ever acted that way. But the truth is I made mistakes. As Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones says in Langston Hughes’ “Thank You, M’am”:

“I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know.”

Now I’m more determined to make up for that lack of judgement and character.

A number of years ago I was remembering a 6th grade experience. I was unkind to a kid a year younger than me–a kid who had trouble fitting in. I felt terrible about it all those years later, and I said, “Lord, if I ever see ‘Charles’ again, I’ll apologize and set things right.” Who did I see just a week later? Charles was standing outside of the coffee shop as I went in. He seemed happy to see me. We shook hands and caught up.

Then I took a deep breath. “Charles, I know there were times I wasn’t very nice to you. I picked on you instead of…”

“No, no,” he said. “That was a long time ago. Don’t mention it.”

“I know it was, but you were on my mind the other day and I knew I needed to apologize to you if I ever got the chance. I’m sorry I wasn’t nicer.”

He brushed it off, but I could see in his eyes he appreciated it.

I felt relieved, for sure.

Reading Wonder, I am aggravated, maddened, and saddened by the people who treat Auggie so poorly. But that aggravation is aimed right back at me. Would I have been any better were an Auggie at my school? Would I have seen past? Would I have looked deeper? I don’t want to answer that.

And that is why I think it is so important to read this book. Wonder gives us a chance to see deeper and to look closer. Perhaps once we’re friends with August, we will be more willing to embrace others who don’t fit our vision of beautiful or cool.

The title of the book comes from the author’s favorite song:

Doctors have come from distant cities

just to see me

stand over my bed

disbelieving what they’re seeing

They say I must be one of the wonders

of God’s own creation

and as far as they see they can offer

no explanation

NATALIE MERCHANT, “Wonder”

We are all wonders of God’s creation. May we work harder at living that way. At accepting others that way. At accepting ourselves that way.

Below are a bunch of cool links n’ videos n’ stuff. Click to your heart’s content.

Colby Sharp’s interview with R.J. Palacio.

R.J. Palacio’s post on the Nerdy Book Club Blog (about Mr. Browne’s precepts).

R.J. Palacio’s blog–where you can find the playlist of the songs she references in her book and Mr. Browne’s Precepts. Worth a look.

Another teacher, Brian Wilhorn, is reading aloud Wonder. He is putting together information on his blog to help his students understand some of the cultural references. This is quite impressive and I recommend you take a look:

http://mrwreads.blogspot.com/search/label/Wonder

My colleague, Brent Peterson, also blogged his thoughts on Wonder.

….And if you would forgive me one shameless moment of pride, R.J. Palacio actually mentioned me in her “Thank You” post. Halfway down it says:

Thank you amazing teachers and librarians who have such a passion for bringing books to your kids.

Thank you Kim Harte, Adriane White, Kelly Butcher, Rebecca Butcher, Tracy Wymer, KateR2R, Lidnsay Healey, Sharon Goodwin, Mummy Barrow, Kate Conley, Zac Harding, Tim Oneill, Mike Winchell, Matt Imrie, Katherin Sokolowsky, David Etkin, Gae Polisher, Sabrina YABliss, Nicole LeFreniere, Mike Hutchinson.

Thank you everyone who has blogged about WONDER….

I was reading it in bed when I saw that and almost dropped my iPad on my head. Unreal.

Just for fun, I’ll include a couple songs that were important to the book.

[I don’t know what the visuals are on this video, but it’s nice to see the lyrics]

A new cool trailer made by a librarian:

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29 thoughts on “The Wonder of WONDER

  1. I have just finished Wonder, and of course I cried. Today I helped in my daughters class at school, and asked if any of them ( year six) had read the book, many had, and wanted to start a discussion group on books they were reading, the class book at the moment is Harry Potter , unfortunately they are studying for SATS at the moment, so there is no time at this stressful time of year, but as they LOVED. Wonder, perhaps if it is permitted there can be a discussion group with next years key stage 2 ers. (My daughter is the teacher)

    Loved the book

  2. To R.J. Palacio
    I have just finished, admired, and enjoyed ‘Wonder’ very much.
    I was motivated to read it because our son, who is now 35, has cerebral palsy. His school years were not happy ones and we’re very glad they are far behind us.
    I am from the US (grew up in suburbs in N.J.), married to someone who originally is from Wales; we’ve been living in and around London since 1973.
    I was enjoying ‘Wonder’ anyway when I had a fun response, learning that you had named the fictional Beecher Prep after Henry Ward Beecher. He (and his father, Lyman Beecher, and sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe) are distant relatives: my oldest brother’s middle name is Beecher. Our maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Beecher.
    I’ve been recommending ‘Wonder’ to a network of relations I have in the US — brothers and sister, nephews, nieces, and their children — anyone who has a school-age child.
    I admired the research that obviously you did as background to the book. To me, the ‘voices’ of August and his sister, and others seemed on target, each speaking as their respective age groups would speak, which was a remarkable accomplishment. I’m thinking, for instance, of the limited things August chooses to say to his mother after he’s come home from the ‘orientation’ meeting before school actually starts. The plot line plausibly followed what might well happen to any child in, say, Fifth grade, including the death of a beloved pet. To repeat: great admiration for your skill in writing the book, pitching the tone of each of those voices just right. And, yes, you successfully managed to get me ‘tearing up’ at, at least, three parts of the story line (the death of Daisy, the success of Via and events surrounding the night of the performance of ‘Our Town’, and the graduation ceremony, with its quotation by Henry Ward Beecher.
    There were literally only three people (one of them a teacher) who redeemed our son’s schooling years. One of the three was (and is!) a remarkably talented and highly motivated speech therapist whom our son was fortunate enough to be linked up to when he was 15. He cannot speak (he verbalises but it is hard to figure out to what he is referring) and she taught him how to use a communication aid which speaks for him. The one he uses now is about three ‘generations’ on from his original communication aid. It’s mounted on a bracket on his wheelchair. It revolutionised his life.
    I’m a recently retired minister, by the way. I was Presbyterian and my wife and I met at Princeton Theological Seminary, which is Presbyterian-related. Since moving to the UK in 1973 I was ordained into The United Reformed Church (a union of Presbyterians and Congregationalists).
    Thanks again for ‘Wonder’.
    By the way, do you know of the young woman with cerebral palsy, Francesca Martinez? She has been doing ‘stand up’ for a few years and is hilarious. She’s just brought out a book whose title is, as I’m writing it: “What the **** is Normal?”
    Peace,
    Revd Bruce Stuart

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    • For sure! The main character is in fifth grade, but it’s in middle school and it FEELS more middle school-y. Let me know.

      How did you find me here, Cuz?

      • I saw this blog on FB a while back. Thought the book looked good for Russ. I may pick it up on amazon. Hope you are all well!

  10. I love Wonder it is the kind of book you want to read ALL day. i want my own copy so bad. I think it should be called ” Wonder The Book of Books “

  11. i am absolutly loving this book I want to read this book ALL day. I wish i had my own copy. I’ve never been more into a book. it sounds like it should be called “Wonder The Book of Books”

    • I trust you won’t be disappointed. Just talked to MY teacher who, after hearing us all rave about it, read it on a day to herself. Said she blubbbered through the ending.

      That’s a good sign.

  12. I would be very interested to hear about how your students react to the book, better yet, I would really love to watch their reactions as you read it to them. I am sure it will touch some of the children rather deeply!

  13. I feel like you do that Wonder should be reading for all humans. I also saw that I had not always been kind to people who were/are different and I strive to be better for having read about Auggie and what he goes through.

    Thank you for the songs; I enjoyed listening to them after I finished the book. They really added to my enjoyment of the book.

    • Thanks for visiting! It’s great to meet new people in the WONDER family. Glad my post struck a chord–and inspires change.

  14. mr.e i really like the blog and i am curious to know when wonder comes out on the shelf in the class from; your student jacobc

  15. Thanks for mentioning the MrWReads blog in your post. I’m having a great time putting it together as I reread the book ahead of the read aloud in class. I didn’t imagine that what I was putting together for my students would be shared with other classes, but I hope it’s a beneficial resource to all who see it.

    Thanks again,
    Brian

    • I can’t believe how much work you’re putting into it. I didn’t realize all the cultural references that were embedded in the book. I also didn’t realize “Auggie Doggie” was from a cartoon. I’m too young ;-). Thanks for what you’re doing.

      • It is so cool that you are among the teachers mentioned in the post! How exciting that must have been to see your name on the list! R.J. Palacio is one smart cookie!! ;D I am looking forward to looking through all of the info, videos, links, Mr. Peterson’s blog etc. and of course now I MUST read the book, WONDER! As I mentioned before my “to read” list is gotten very lengthy because of your blogs and was in no particular order until now… WONDER has just been added to the top of it. 🙂

      • That is exactly what happened to me with WONDER. Because of the strong recommendations from the “people who know” and who read it before it was even on the shelves, I had my name on the library list before the library had even purchased the books. I showed the trailer to the students way back in January. Since that time, they were asking me, “When is that book with the face going to be here?”

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