Author: R. J. Palacio
2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book becoming a movie in 2017
Thoughts: For those of you who don’t know me, I am a person without a real career. At one point in my life, I wanted to become a teacher. I went to grad school, racked up a TON of debt and got certified in not one but two states. I quickly got a job teaching in a building where I had been student teaching at the tail end of my certification process and was crazy excited to enter the world of being an elementary school teacher.
It was awful.
I mean, I loved my kids, I loved the act of teaching, I really loved most of my coworkers, but I hated the system. The public education system in this country needs some serious love. And NOT the kind of love that comes from stripping it of it’s resources and asking teachers to do more for nothing. I couldn’t stay in the system. I, unlike my amazing mother who has been teaching in impoverished areas for 30 years, am not a martyr. So after some soul searching and a very stressful year in my own 4th grade classroom, I left.
As part of my not-so-conventional life, I started substitute teaching which I found suited my sensibility much better. After a couple years, I had made enough connections that I was basically in the same building every day. I felt like one of the staff without the salary, benefits and paid vacations. So I thought, maybe I should go back and pick this up full time.
Well, I got a pseudo opportunity last Spring when a colleague went on maternity leave and I filled in as her long term sub. During that time, the students decided as part of their literacy block to read Wonder. I let them choose the book and I am so glad I did. This is one of those books that makes me happy to teach and reminds me why I wanted to get into education in the first place. It’s heartbreaking and joyous all at the same time and my students really connected to the characters and what they were going through. Honestly, even though I had heard a lot of great things about it, I probably wouldn’t have read it if it hadn’t been for those 27 crazy fifth graders.
Wonder is the story of August (Auggie) Pullman. Born with a facial deformity, but no cognitive or developmental delays, Auggie has spent his life homeschooled and being shuttled to and from doctors for surgeries and treatments. He is starting 5th grade and he and his family have decided it’s time for him to try public school. He is no stranger to teasing and stares, but public school is way more intense than the looks he gets at the local park. The book is broken into sections based on point of view. There is a section told by August, one by his older sister, and a couple by various friends. Through the book, he learns to navigate the social scene and tries to embrace who he is.
There are so many things about this book that are amazing. There is a teacher, Mr. Browne, who teaches English and has monthly precepts he uses to help the students reflect and write on life lessons. I found they were a wonderful jumping off point for my own students’ journaling. The bullying August encounters is very real. The author uses very effective imagery to help the reader understand where the characters are coming from and how words can hurt. It made my kiddos so angry when we read some of the things that were being said about August. As we discussed ways to squash bullying and get over it when we are mistreated by peers, the students were able to connect deeply to the characters and become more invested in the story. There were multiple times in the book that I had to take a pause while reading aloud because I was becoming a bit emotional. Thinking of anyone being treated poorly because of the way they look, dress or talk just breaks my heart and Palacio hit me in the feels with this one.
Thankfully, there are always people who will stand up for others, do the right thing and see people for who they are, not how they look. His family bonds, the friendships he builds and the way he blazes a path for himself in this new and intimidating environment called Middle School makes Auggie Pullman an inspiring character. Mind you, he is not flawless. He gets upset and feels sorry for himself, but when you are sad and lonely, who wouldn’t!? It’s the way he grows from the beginning of the book to the end that makes this worth reading and sharing with all kids. I really believe this is a book, like The Giver, Charlotte’s Web, and Bridge to Terabithia, that all kids should absolutely read. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you will definitely learn something about yourself.