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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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Cover for the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Random House

The Appeal of Wonder

Some books are action-packed, compelling the reader to turn the pages, if only to find out what happens next. Other books are compelling because they invite the readers to engage with characters who are real, who come alive off the page, pulling the reader into their story. Wonder, a book for 9 to 12 year olds, is the latter kind; very little happens in the course of the book, and yet readers will find themselves affected by Auggie and his story.

Wonder: The Story

August Pullman (Auggie to his friends) is not an ordinary ten-year-old boy. He feels like one, and has the interests of one, but he has a condition that makes him different. And in an obvious way: it’s his face that isn’t ordinary. It’s the type of face that scares kids, that makes people stare. August is pretty good natured about it all: This is the way he is, after all, and while he doesn’t like it that people stare, there’s not much he can do about it.

Because his face has required many reconstructive surgeries, Auggie has been home schooled. But the surgeries are done for a while, and now August’s parents think it’s time that he goes to school, beginning with fifth grade in the fall. The idea of this terrifies Auggie; he knows how people react to seeing him, and he wonders if he will be able to fit in at school at all.

However, Auggie is brave,. He goes to school and finds that it’s much like he expected. Many people laugh at him behind his back; in fact, there’s a game called the Plague going around where people “catch” a “disease” if they touch Auggie. One boy, Julian, leads the bullying attacks; he’s the sort of kid whom adults find charming, but in reality, he is quite mean to anyone not in his group.

Auggie does make two close friends: Summer, a girl who actually likes Auggie for who he is, and Jack. Jack started out as Auggie’s “assigned” friend, and when Auggie finds this out, he and Jack have a falling out. However, they patch things up at Christmas, after Jack gets suspended for hitting Julian for badmouthing Auggie.

This leads to a “war” among the boys: the popular boys against Auggie and Jack. While nothing more than mean words, in the form of notes in the lockers, fly between the two camps, the tension between the camps culminates in the spring. There is a confrontation between a group of older boys from a different school and Auggie and Jack at a sleep-away camp. They are hopelessly outnumbered until a group of boys who were formerly against Auggie and Jack help defend them from the bullies.

In the end, Auggie has a successful year at school, making the Honor Roll. In addition, he gets an award for courage at school, which is not something he understands: “If they want to give me a medal for being me, I’ll take it.” (p. 306) He sees himself as ordinary, and in the face of everything else, he really is just that: an ordinary kid.

My Recommendation

It‘s the straightforward manner in which Palacio approaches her topic that makes this book excellent. Having Auggie be just ordinary makes him relatable, and his challenges stand out. I wasn’t that thrilled that Palacio tells the story from other points of view in addition to Auggie’s. On the one hand, it was nice getting to know his older sister, Via, and her reactions to Auggie and the way he took over the family’s life. However, some of the other viewpoints -- especially of Via’s friends -- felt somewhat unnecessary and bogged the middle of the book down. There wasn’t much conflict in the whole book. Except for Auggie’s face, he’s a pretty normal kid, with normal drama. I think that helps make the book accessible to a wider audience and allows the ideas of identity and how we treat other people to come through. Recommended for ages 9-12. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, An Imprint of Random House, 2012. ISBN: 9780375869020)

Author R.J. Palacio

An art director, designing book jackets, by profession, R. J. Palacio first thought of the idea for Wonder when she and her children were on vacation and they saw a child who had a condition similar to Auggie’s. Her children reacted badly to the situation, which got Palacio thinking about the girl and what she goes through on a daily basis. She also thought about how she could have better taught her children to respond to situations like this. The book also inspired Random House to start an anti-bullying campaign, called Choose Kind, with a site where people can share their experiences and sign a pledge to stamp out bullying. There you can also download an excellent Educator Guide for Wonder to use at home, with a community group or at home. (Source: R. J. Palacio’s website)

Other Good Books Recommended by Your Children's Books Guide Elizabeth Kennedy

Gordan Korman's books are very popular with middle grade readers and his novel Schooled addresses peer pressure and bullying in a way that is both entertaining and informative. For a look at what bullying is, the different types of bullying, how to tell if you are a bully and ways of coping with a bully, I recommend the nonfiction book The Skinny on Bullying. Another novel that addresses peer pressure is Stargirl by popular author Jerry Spinelli. For more bullying advice and support, see What is Cyberbullying? and be sure to visit the About.com: Bullying website.

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