Saturday, June 15, 2013

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Image from
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012

10 year old August Pullman is starting middle school. Most kids feel a bit nervous when they start at a new school, but Auggie thinks he’s probably more nervous than most 5th graders at Beecher Prep because this is the first time he’s ever been to school. Born with a facial deformity, Auggie has spent the majority of his young life in the hospital undergoing numerous surgeries, so he was homeschooled. His parents think it's time for him to try regular school, but Auggie isn't so sure. He knows that on the inside he's a pretty normal, ordinary kid. He likes grilled cheese sandwiches, playing with his dog, and knows just about everything there is to know about Star Wars. Initially, most of his classmates have a hard time seeing past his appearance to the brave, smart, funny, and kind boy he is inside. But over the course of the school year, a year filled with science projects and mean words, nature camps and acts of kindness, Auggie and his classmates grow to appreciate one another.

Set in New York, Palacio’s story is firmly grounded in the 21st century with frequent references to pop culture and technology. Auggie, supported by loving and understanding parents, is a hilarious and touching protagonist. The book is divided into eight parts. Each one is written in first person from a different perspective including Auggie, his classmates Jack Will and Summer his sister, Via, Via’s boyfriend Justin, and her best friend Miranda. Each narrative overlaps with the previous section and then carries the story further. The multiple viewpoints allow Palacio to reveal more about the motivations and actions of the characters than if the story was told from a single perspective. The importance of kindness in words and actions is a major theme in this story. Each section of the book is prefaced with a quote from a song, poem, or novel and many of these snippets reinforce this message. The chapters are short and the dialogue and narrative are conversational and believable.

Read an excerpt of the book to get a taste of Auggie’s insightful and funny voice.

I listened to the audiobook version and highly recommend it. It is wonderfully narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl, and Kate Rudd. I especially love that you can hear the smile in Auggie’s voice.

You can also check out the short, but intriguing book trailer.

*Use this book as the jumping off point for a discussion on bullying. Many characters are bullied in this story and in many cases the reader gets to hear about incidents from several perspectives. Alternatively, you could use this book as a catalyst for a conversation about kindness and the impact our words and actions make on others. More discussion questions are available on Palacio’s website.

*Auggie’s teacher, Mr. Brown, has a precept for each month (see the appendix in the book for a complete chronological list). Have kids write about their favorite precept from the book or create one of their own and write it on a postcard. Check your local thrift store or used book store for cheap and fun postcards.

*Check out the detailed and illuminating FAQ and Annotation sections on Palacio’s website.

*Bring in some of the books, songs, plays, and movies referenced in the book. These titles include:
The Hobbit by J. R. Tolkien
Light and Day by the Polyphonic Spree
Our Town by Thorton Wilder
The Sound of Music by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg

Age 9+ / Grade 4+


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