Wonder is a novel about a child in fifth grade with a craniofacial difference. Published a year ago, it has quickly become a favorite among tweens, parents and critics, and it's no surprise that the book is a New York Times best seller. Author R.J. Palacio recently visited our town and offered some insight into the origin of the book as well as her thoughts on tweens.
Wonder focuses on main character August Pullman, Auggie, as he begins fifth grade at a public school, the first time he has been in a mainstream classroom because he has Treacher-Collins syndrome. Auggie desperately wants to be treated normally in middle school, but is abnormal face makes that difficult. The story is first told from Auggie’s point of view, but it switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These narrators all come together to show how one community struggles with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
The tagline of the novel Wonder is "You can't blend in when you were born to stand out."
Palacio used to work as a book cover designer, but started writing Wonder, her first book, after an incident at an ice cream shop. She was sitting on a bench outside the shop next to a little girl with craniofacial difference. She was trying very hard to ensure that her two sons did not react adversely to the girl, but despite her good intentions, her efforts to keep her three year-old from seeing the girl led to spilled milkshakes and quite a scene. The girls mom said simply, "It's time to go." Palacio said that the incident was not what she wanted to happen, and she knew it wasn't right. Eventually she realized that she reacted out of fear, of both her son's reaction and the girl's feelings, and instead she should have acted out of kindness.
Palacio said that she opted to have Auggie in fifth grade in part because her son had just finished fifth grade, and it had been a rough year. She said, "Fifth through seventh grade is the first time kids are asked to make choices for themselves. They have to decide who they want to be."
Calling her book a "meditation on kindness," Palacio said she wanted to impress upon her readers the power of words. She said, "You all have the power to change lives. Remember the power of words, and think about how you want to be remembered."
Palacio said, "I hope parents take heed and do more interfering in their kids’ lives."
She explains on her author website, "I’ve talked to so many parents, friends of mine, who kind of stood back and shrugged off their kids’ behavior in middle school, as if being mean were an unavoidable evil that they 'hope' their kid would grow out of. I had one dad tell me once about his son, 'Well, he doesn’t listen to me anymore so I stopped wasting my time trying to tell him what to do.' To me, that’s exactly when your kid needs you the most: when he acts like he’s not listening anymore."
Wonder is a great book for family book club. Our family enjoyed the book and seeing Palacio speak. The book is a fast read that packs a big punch. There is a ton to talk about, including kindness, courage, judgment, support and love. Parents looking for specific discussion topics and more info can also benefit from checking out the publisher's Education guide here.
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