Skyping with WONDER author RJ Palacio

On Friday, May 18th, RJ Palacio joined the 140 Sweet Home Middle School students on AlphaTeam and Team Possible via Skype to discuss WONDER.

It took a few attempts to connect–anxious moments indeed–but that just gave us time to raffle off some great titles that Kim Krug of Monkey See, Monkey Do brought along for the students.  By the time we connected and RJ popped up on the screen, the students were pretty pumped up.

Yeah–we teachers were too.

Here is the intro we gave RJ. (We were asked to call her RJ, just in case you were wondering.  Just another thing that we enjoyed about her:):Once in a while a book comes along that creates an unmistakable buzz.

We started hearing this buzz in 2011 on the book blogs we follow—like the Nerdy Book Club blog.

Wonder, and its hashtag #thewonderofwonder, started burning up the Twitterverse.  When we had the opportunity to get an advance copy of this WONDER, we jumped.

There are many books that are exciting. Many books that are thrilling.  Now that we’ve all read WONDER, I think we can agree that Wonder…is a life changer. It’s about being a better person. It’s about treating others with kindness.

Wonder can be summarized with two quotes from the book:


Mr. Browne’s first precept: When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.
&
Be kinder than is necessary.

There are not too many times that a book really makes such an impact on us that we feel as though we need to expose as many people to it as we can.  Fortunately being a teacher allows for me the forum to do so.  We hope that all of you have enjoyed listening to the lives of the characters in WONDER as much as we have enjoyed reading them to you.  We would like to thank R.J. Palacio for her willingness to offer her time to us and to allow us to discuss this “WONDER”ful book.


And with that, we give you—RJ PALACIO!

DAVID: It was a little overwhelming to hear RJ speak and answer the students’ questions. After reading WONDER 4 times (once on my own, then aloud to three classes), I feel like the characters are my friends. To hear from the woman who invented these friends of mine was amazing.

BRENT: Her perspectives and explanations as to the characters motives brought a whole new understanding to WONDER for me.  I had these ideas about who everyone was and what they intended and to hear R.J. give additional background and insight as to why she had these “friends” act how they did was very cool.We had our students create questions about WONDER ahead of time so that we could choose a number of them to be read at our Skype session.  We did this for time reasons and also to ensure that the questions asked were not repeated or things that we had already discussed.

Here are a list of the questions that ended up being chosen and asked to R.J. by our students.

QUESTION TOPICS THAT STUDENTS GENERATED INCLUDED:

  • Why did you choose to write from different points of view?
  • Why didn’t  you write from Julian’s POV?
  • Why was Justin’s section all in lowercase?
  • Who chose the artwork for the book? Why did the pictures have only one eye?
  • Why didn’t Mr. Tushman do anything about Julian bullying Auggie if he knew about it?
  • How did you know so much Star Wars stuff?
  • Where did you get the idea for the precepts?
  • How did you choose the song quotes?
  • Have you been bullied? How did you handle it? How would you now?
  • What was the most emotional part of the book for you? (R.J. said that this was one of the best questions she had been asked!!)
  • Have your friends and family been inspired by the book?
  • Is there any future for WONDER in movies or television?

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DAVID: I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to blink back tears at a few points in the conversation. RJ’s answers were insightful and thought provoking.

BRENT: I agree.  I was blown away by her responses.  She took each question and responded with a very well thought out response.  It was really moving to hear her describe her characters as though they are real people.  I find that many times I feel that way as a I read a story but that usually diminishes as I get to discussing the book with others.  It was refreshing to hear her speak about them in that way.

DAVID: It was also rewarding to have my mom there to experience the interview with me. My whole family has read and discussed WONDER. My mom was thoroughly impressed with our students and RJ. We gushed about it for a long time afterwards.We concluded our time together with this:

Thanks to Monkey See, Monkey Do bookstore, we received discounted WONDER copies that our students were able to pre-order.  We ended up selling over 40 copies.

Links that you might be interested in:

Brent’s Todaysmeet blog post:
http://wp.me/pjlXg-61
Brent’s original Wonder post:
http://wp.me/pjlXg-2L

David’s Todaysmeet blog post:
http://wp.me/p28nqv-bR

David’s original Wonder post:
http://wp.me/p28nqv-6N – original chat
http://wp.me/p28nqv-ci – video
http://wp.me/p28nqv-cJ – final chat and video

RJ Palacio’s blog.

To show how the WORDofWONDER has spread, I played around with making this flowchart.  I call it my WONDERtracker. As big as it is, it is still incomplete:

Do you want to hear the unofficial soundtrack of WONDER? 1) join PING in iTunes; 2) search for David Etkin–click; 3) click on the “Wonder of WONDER” list.
Written by:
David Etkin (@DavidAEtkin)
and
Brent Peterson (@BrentJPeterson) / http://bjp7834.wordpress.com

BOY + BOT by Ame Dyckman

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Boy + Bot, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino Is a clever book. It has gotten a lot of hype from the Nerdy Book Club, which is where I often find out about great new picture books and books for my students. Without the NBC, Boy + Bot would surely have passed me by. Shame.

In this tale, Boy is out playing when he meets bot. They play, bot shuts down, and boy tries to cure him in very human ways. (Applesauce, Ms. Dyckman? Really?). Then the story twists and repeats itself in a clever way. Though the story line is simple, the structure is interesting and the illustrations capture the joy of childhood play.

It’s interesting to hear 6th-graders’ comments as I read aloud. Some, forgetting that the “intended” audience (I put that in quotes because we know that books intended for youngsters often have more meaning when the reader is older), express disbelief that the boy stumbled upon a robot–that the parents don’t seem to know what’s going on at first, then are OK with it–that the boy doesn’t wake up–that the inventor knows the Boy’s number and where he lives. Others enjoy the fun of the story and catch the clever way the pictures are laid out in repeating patterns as the story folds back on itself. One boy noticed the toy robot in Boy’s room as he fell asleep and surmised that the boy was just imagining the whole thing.

With social media, so many authors are accessible and open to communicating with their readers. I knew Ame was on Twitter (since I follow her), so I gave each class a chance to compile a tweet to her:

And in less than a class period, Ms. Dyckman responded:

Pretty cool, right?

AFFIRMATIVE!

Here are a few more sites that have featured Ame, Dan, and BOY + BOT:

ENJOY!

P.S.—(I also share picture books I get for my class with my daughters. I had just finished reading it to them and asked them to pose.)

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A MONSTER CALLS–Reading aloud

Like poetry, a novel often takes on a new life when read aloud.

In October, I was reading a lot of Twitter chatter about A Monster Calls by an author named Patrick Ness. As a thank-you for some computer assistance I was able to offer, Alyson Beecher (@alybee930) sent me an ARC (advanced reader copy) of the book. I read it on the train to New York City, captivated by the mix of prose and unusual ink drawings.

Here is the book blurb fromt Ness’s site, http://www.patrickness.com/books.html.

A Monster Calls

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Check out the awesome trailer:

And yet it wasn’t until my friend Brent Peterson read it and we started talking about it that I truly appreciated the book. Books can be like that: they are meant to be shared. And the tree of ideas that grows out of a conversation–fertilized by insights from both sides–is a thing of beauty.

If you know the book, you know why I chose tree for that metaphor.

After seeing the book passed around my classroom, and talking with other teachers who have since read it, I knew I needed to read it again. After finishing The Mighty Miss Malone, I knew it was the perfect time.

And still, I wanted to share it with my wife. I had told her so much about it. So as we were finishing dinner the other night I asked her if she’d let me read to her. She agreed, and after the kids were in bed we settled into the couch and I began.

I was amazed at how different the words felt coming off my tongue compared to how they bounced around inside my head. And my appreciation of the book grows all the more. It should be known that my wife was in no hurry for me to stop–38 pages later.

Here is a great recording of Ness reading from the first chapter of the book, followed by an interview with some background (it will pop up in a new window):

I’ll write more another time about the book itself. Perhaps you’d like to borrow a copy–or buy one yourself…

Whatever book you choose, try reading some of it aloud. Read to those older; read to a child; read to your peers. Let the words build a bridge between you.

In today’s Nerdy Book Club blog, Donalyn Miller–AKA “the Book Whisperer”–serendipitously posted about the importance of reading aloud. Check it out.