Wonder is a book written by R. J. Palacio. This is my faaaaaavorite book. No really. It is. I’m not kidding! (This is my mantra every time I start to read a book to a class. After about the third book the students say it with me.) Wonder is a story about an ordinary fifth grader, August, with an extraordinary disability. He has been home schooled and his parents decide it is time for him to attend school so that he will be ready to face the world.
The author R. J. Palacio writes a one-page lead that would capture any reader. The first chapter is called Ordinary. On the first page a boy describes how he is an ordinary boy that likes to do ordinary things. In the first paragraph he lists the ordinary things that he likes to do. Then he says, “I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.” I think this would capture the attention of even the most reluctant reader. The boy continues to describe his feelings when people give him that “try-not-to-stare” stare. He describes his somewhat over protective family and how they see him as extraordinary. The last line of the first page the boy formally introduces himself, “My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking it’s probably worse.”
As I read the first page of this amazing book I imagined a group of students, sitting on the floor in front of me, leaning farther forward with every sentence, mouths agape, and eyes wide with anticipation. Of course that last line is where I would stop because I love to hear students scream, “No! Don’t stop!”
The book follows August’s tumultuous journey attending a school for the first time. It is a heart-wrenching story that causes one to cry relentlessly throughout the book. It makes one want root for the underdog, feel for the forgotten older sister, and beat the shit out of the bully. It reminds me of the book Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. They both have the theme of everybody deserves kindness.
Wonder is a story that is written from the point of view of different characters: August, his older sister, Via, and Jack Will, the school jock that becomes August’s friend.
As I read this book it made me reflect again on how I treat people and how I see others treat people. I find myself always being in a hurry and when I see someone I give that expected courteous smile, and say those expected words, “Hi, how are you?” not stopping to hear how that person is, hurrying off to my next destination. When Janet and I come home everyday the family is very kind about asking, “How was your day?” but Janet and I always answer the same way. She says, “Great, wonderful, terrific!” and I respond, “Fine and dandy, Andy!” We say this even when it hasn’t been a great-wonderful-terrific-fine-and-dandy-Andy day. And I wonder why? Why does one ask, “How are you?” when one really doesn’t want to know. And why do I say, “Fine and dandy, Andy!” when I really am not fine and dandy. It is difficult to decide when one asks, “Hi, how are you?” if they really want to know how you are. I wonder . . . . .
I have had a difficult time this past month at work and I have worked very hard to keep people from knowing how I really feel. I wonder what would happen if someone asked, “How are you?” and I actually told one how I was. I wonder what would happen if I said, “Hi, how are you?” and I actually stopped, made eye contact, and waited for an answer other than, “Fine and you?”
I wonder . . . . . . .
Okay, okay, I get your drift. “Flip, how are you?” Okay, I give, I can’t do it because I really don’t care.
The Flip Side
Do you think the lizards and prairie dogs want me to ask them how they are before I chase them or after I catch them?