Thursday, January 2, 2014

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I became aware of this book back in August when, at the annual gathering of district administrators, copies of "Wonder" were given out as door prizes at each of the workshops that day. Like everyone, I believe that I "never win anything," and I didn't win a copy of the novel. At the close of each workshop I watched colleague after colleague walk away with their free copy. 

As we prepared to leave after the long day of professional development, one of our deputy supes said, "Oh by the way, there's one rule about the book. It is part of our 'One Book, One Community' program, and our plan is that as many people as possible in Round Rock ISD read this book this year. So when you're done, you have to give it to someone else -- a friend, student, parent, teacher, etc. for them to read and enjoy." 

It took a while, but I finally got a copy from my school's library and read it over our winter break. I have to say I am so pleased that I work for an organization that would require this particular book. 

"Wonder" is a story about kindness, empathy and love. The way I like to see it is that someone in our school system's leadership decided, wisely, that these are the three pillars of public education -- as opposed to testing, testing, and testing, which has been the bellwether for the last several years now. 

Palacio employs a Salinger-esque voice in this book. There are eight sections of the book, told from the points of view of six of the characters, all of them about August Pullman, a fifth grader going to his first "regular" school, after having been home schooled by his mother up to now. 

I won't write in too much detail about the story, because I think it's worth discovering for oneself. I will mention, however, that in addition to the usual travails of being ten years old and entering a new school, Auggie also has a condition known as Treacher-Collins Syndrome, which has disfigured his head and face at birth and necessitated multiple surgeries for him during his young life.

What I came to realize is that more than anything else, this is a story about bravery, and all that goes on in the inner-workings of a ten year old boy, of any stripe. It is for this reason that I have decided that the first student I plan on sharing this book with is my own ten year old son, Diego. I believe he will gain much from it, and that it will inspire his own thinking about the people he sees around him every day in this sometimes confusing world, and that it will help him to develop what I already see as a highly-developed sense of empathy

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