Tuesday, June 5, 2012

REVIEW: Wonder

Palacio, R.J.  (2012).  Wonder.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.

310 pages.

Appetizer:  Ten-year-old August "Auggie" Pullman is going to school for the first time in his life.  He, his parents and his sister, Via, who is starting the ninth grade at a different school, are all nervous about this.  Auggie's face looks different from those of other kids.  Due to a one in several million chance of genetics, people stare at Auggie wherever he goes.

Despite the fact that his parents, the principal, and some of the teachers and students try to create a welcoming environment for Auggie at Beecher Prep, Auggie still faces bullying, questions and betrayals from his classmates who fear being near him.  At times, Auggie will want nothing more than to return to homeschooling.

What a powerhouse of a book with such a moving story!  Experiences of love and loss, kindness and cruelty, and devotions and betrayals abound.  With content related to science (genetics), social studies (Ancient Egypt) and messages about bullying, acceptance and being kind, this is a great classroom read for 4th-6th graders.

Wonder is an allusion-rich text.  I found myself wishing I'd watched all six of the Star Wars movies more recently so I could know exactly what Auggie was describing.  There are also references to The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Our Town, and a particularly powerful reference to the Cheese Touch from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, that truly demonstrates how ostracized Auggie was during the first part of fifth grade:
Tristan didn't even care about the spilled powder on the floor or that he ruined the experiment.  What he was most concerned about was getting to the lab sing to wash his hands as fast as possible.  That's when I knew for sure that there was this thing about touching me at Beecher Prep.
I think it's like the Cheese Touch in Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The kids in that story were afraid they'd catch the cooties if they touched the old moldy cheese on the basketball court.  At Beecher Prep, I'm the old moldy cheese." (p. 72)
Yikes!  And very moving!  The way Palacio and Auggie describe his classmate's behaviors ring true.  This book can be a very upsetting mirror for some readers' behaviors.  (But don't worry, this metaphorical mirror doesn't always reveal the worst of ourselves.  Palacio does a great job of showing the complexity and varied natured of a lot of the characters' struggles.)

I was rather surprised when I reached Part II of Wonder and I realized that the book jumped to Auggie's sister's point of view (and in later parts to those of some of both siblings' classmates).  I wanted to stay with Auggie!  But, the more I read, I saw the importance of seeing different characters' perspectives and motives.

Also, I'm rather fond of Wonder's booktrailer.  You can watch that here:

Here's also a Publisher's Weekly article describing how support for Wonder has lead Random House Children's Books to launch an online anti-bullying campaign called Choose Kind.

Dinner Conversation:

"I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.  I eat ice cream.  I ride my bike.  I play ball.  I have an XBox.  Stuff like that makes me ordinary.  I guess.  And I feel ordinary.  Inside.  But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go." (p. 3)

"'I don't want to go to school,' I answered, folding my arms.
"It would be good for you, Auggie," said Mom.
"Maybe I'll go next year," I answered, looking out the window.
"This year would be better, Auggie," said Mom.  "You know why?  Because you'll be going into fifth grade, and that's the first year of middle school--for everyone.  You won't be the only new kid."
"I'll be the only kid who looks like me," I said.
"I'm not going to say it won't be a big challenge for you, because you know better than that," she answered.  "But it'll be good for you, Auggie.  You'll make lots of friends.  Any you'll learn things you'd never learn from me." (p. 12)

"They were just being normal dumb kids.  I know that.  I kind of wanted to tell them that.  Like, it's okay, I know I'm weird-looking, take a look, I don't bite.  Hey, the truth is, if a Wookiee started going to the school all of a sudden, I'd be curious, I'd probably stare a bit!  And if I was walking with Jack or Summer, I'd probably whisper to them:  Hey, there's the Wookiee.  And if the Wookiee caught me saying that, he'd know I wasn't trying to be mean.  I was just pointing out the fact that he's a Wookiee."  (p. 62)

"For me, Halloween is the best holiday in the world.  It even beats Christmas.  I get to dress up in a costume.  I get to wear a mask.  I get to go around like every other kid with a mask and nobody thinks I look weird.  Nobody takes a second look.  Nobody notices me.  Nobody knows me.
I wish every day could be Halloween.  We could all wear masks all the time.  Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks."  (p. 73)

"August is the Sun.  Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun.  The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun.  The only celestial body that doesn't orbit August the Sun is Daisy the dog, and that's only because to her little doggy eyes, August's face doesn't look very different from any other human's face." (p. 82)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

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