R. J. Palacio is a former book cover designer turned author who did not, by the way, design the cover of her first novel, Wonder.
She has nonetheless written a very moving story of a boy with severe facial abnormalities.
August, previously educated at home by his mom, enrolls in middle school. What follows is a story that can be enjoyed and discussed by a wide range of kids, since it touches on a wide range of topics, including…
-what makes people different or ordinary? August feels ordinary, but knows he’s different.
-how do we react to difference? The students (and parents of students) have varying reactions to August’s face.
-what happens in a family when one member needs more care or attention than the others? August’s sister who has no special needs is nearly as important to the book, and to its emotional impact, as August is.
-what is empathy and how do we show it? At the story’s closing, the school principal quotes J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, who once wrote:
“Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”
That quotation and the principal’s reflections upon it should be a huge and uplifting springboard to classroom discussions.
Quibbles? The story ends with the main character receiving a standing ovation. Rather than shedding a tear, I was thinking about the overuse of standing ovations. As someone recently said: “standing for every show is like putting an exclamation point at the end of every sentence.” In a book, it’s a bit like shouting: “This is a big deal! This is the emotional high point! Stand up!”
With writing this good, no one needs to tell readers to stand up. We’re already on our feet.