January 18, 2016

On My Bookshelf: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

In Wonder by R.J. Palacio, August can't hide his differences. They are as plain to see as the misshapen nose on his face. Despite his physical deformities, his parents decide that he will attend a traditional middle school after years of homeschooling. At first, August struggles to fit in as many of his peers cannot accept his differences, but over time, just being himself is enough to win them over. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Basic plot from Amazon: August Pullman was born with a facial difference 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. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

"Wonder is the best kids' book of the year," said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate.com and author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

Why I liked it: The multiple perspectives in the novel allowed you to see what it is like to look physically different from others as well as what it is like to be the sister, friend, parent, etc. of such a different individual. I found the characters to be very realistic and the multiple perspectives allowed you to see the positives in many characters as well as their flaws. Many of the children in the book are not magically friends with August just because they are told to be, not even the "good" kids like Charlotte. Even the adults aren't perfect. Many have negative or inappropriate responses to August. In the end, August is able to win just about everyone over by simply being himself.

Classroom application: The novel is an obvious lead in to discussions surrounding bulling, differences and tolerances. To help students understand the complexity of bullying, throughout the novel, or at its end, students could examine various scenes and identify the ally, target, bystander and perpetrator after deciding upon definitions of these terms. Looking at scenes throughout the book would help students to see that these labels or roles can fluctuate. Sometimes people do the right thing and sometimes they don't.

The novel would also tie into nonfiction texts about the treatment of individuals with physical deformities throughout history, i.e. leprosy and leper colonies.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Wonder for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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