I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
My friend Kacy, The Fettered Matriarch, and I have been doing a fun little book swap for the past few months, sending each other books we love for the other to read. We’ve become the other’s personal library. Most recently, Kacy sent Wonder by R.J. Palacio and I had the best time reading this one to my kids after school each day. Reading time with my kids is my favorite time of the entire day, I love being able to witness their reactions to books and see them learning.
Wonder gave my kids the best lesson in empathy they have had to date. I was a little nervous to read this story to them, I didn’t know much about it and was worried it might be too far above their age levels to be relatable. Happily, this was not an issue at all and instead fostered many opportunities for learning. One of the most difficult things about parenting (the list of difficulties is long, isn’t it?), is watching pieces of sweet innocence being stripped away from our children as they age. Usually, it’s one of the things that is more bitter than sweet. While reading Wonder, we definitely had a few lessons in the cruelties of the world and just how hateful humans can be, something my children have very little experience with, being that they are homeschooled. They haven’t been bullied or treated poorly by other students and have a difficult time imagining how people could possibly be so mean. Thankfully, even the worst things people do can be used for good, allowing others to see the behavior they do not want to replicate. I’d like to think Wonder is a book that makes readers of all ages want to be a little “kinder than necessary”.
As I was reading this to my kids, the thing I appreciated most of all was the variety of perspectives we got with this story. This allowed my children to understand how one person can affect those around them in a dramatic way, whether they intend to or not, and just how little we may know about someone on the surface. Once we made it to Miranda’s perspective, I could see the wheels turning for my daughter. We were able to talk about divorce, how some parents may leave and start new families, and how the children left behind might feel about events that are completely out of their control.
Respectively, my son, as I figured he would, related most to Jack Will. I’ve never seen him more intent to listen to a story prior to reading this book. He was asking questions and had a desire to understand, which made me want to shout for joy. I think he finally caught the reading bug!
As we finished reading, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears, making my kids giggle at their softie of a mother. We followed up our reading by watching the movie on Amazon the following day and had a completely different experience. There’s one thing about imagining what a person looks like from a description in a book and seeing it in person. Again, we were able to use these moments for learning. It’s human nature to be slightly caught off guard by someone who might look different, but it is unacceptable to be mean or point the person out. As we watched the movie, my daughter remarked by the end of the movie she forgot about Auggie’s deformity. And isn’t that the truth? I know once I get to know someone, I stop focusing on their looks. Their appearance is the least important part of them because I know their heart. I wish all humans, myself included, were slower to judge people based on their looks and get to know them first. Truly, the whole experience of both the Wonder book and movie was the best teacher, not only for my kids but for me as well. Everyone should have to read August Pullman’s story!