Wonder by R.J. Palacio is an amazing book on so many levels. If you have not read it, do it now. Like right now. Go to Amazon, download it to your reader, sit in the sun, or in the bathtub, or in front of a cozy fire, or wherever you like to read, and enjoy one of the best pieces of kid-lit, ever.
Then, read it with your students. Here are 10 reasons why:
- Kindness: Kindness is a a major theme in this book. Wouldn’t you love to have a classroom where everyone is “a little kinder than is necessary”? Most of the characters in this book really think about their actions and how they will affect others. There are so many wonderful examples of how being kind really matters – how it changes situations, how it changes lives.
- Friendship vs. Popularity: In this book, two important characters both choose their friendship with August (the main character), who has been rejected by the rest of his grade level, over being popular. Both are offered the chance to join the popular group if they stop hanging around with August, and both very publicly stand by their friend. A third character, in a different storyline, chooses popularity, and we see her story arc, too.
- Point of View: This book is written from several points of view, all kids or teens. The unique voice of each character really adds to the depth of the story. Palacio skillfully weaves the timelines of several characters together. There is so much great learning to be mined just in this one aspect of the book.
- Characterization: The characters in this book are not one-dimensional. The good ones sometimes have bad feelings or do bad things. The bad ones aren’t all bad (though you may need to read The Julian Chapter to see how that plays out). The characters are self-reflective in age-appropriate ways. Even the adults, who we never hear from first-hand, are well crafted.
- Figurative Language: This book is rich in figurative language. There are idioms spoken by adults that the younger main character tries to puzzle out. There are similes and metaphors used by characters to help explain and understand their world. There is also a healthy dose of symbolism.
- Empathy: Empathy is the ability to share and understand another’s feelings. You can’t read Wonder and not feel this emotion. You share the main character’s feelings of living with the face with which he was born. You share his sister’s feelings of having a special needs brother. You share his friends’ feelings of being rejected by their classmates. As an adult, you share his parents’ and teachers’ feelings. The author does an amazing job of portraying these characters and their feelings so authentically.
- Exceptional Writing: Wonder is brilliantly written. In less competent hands, it could have been a disaster. This is not an easy topic to write about. It is not easy to have an authentic fifth grade voice. It’s not easy to bring something we don’t generally talk about front and center. Everything about this book works, from each well-thought-out sentence to the entire arc of the story. And it’s a page turner. Your students will beg you to just read one more page.
- Precepts: Mr. Browne, the English teacher, is fond of precepts – what he calls “words to live by.” These show up throughout the book but also at the end when the students write their own. There it is…a motivating, relevant, and meaningful writing activity just waiting for you to make it happen with your students.
- Other People’s Shoes: Throughout this book you can’t help but ask yourself what you would do if you were in one of the character’s shoes. What if I were….August? Jack? Summer? August’s parents? Via? Miranda? Mr. Tushman? Julian? What would I do? How would I act? What kind of a person am I? What kind of person do I want to be?
- Amazing Discussions and Insightful Essays: There are so many things to discuss in Wonder. About the characters, the story, the writing…I have no doubt you will be amazed with what comes out of your students’ mouths. While discussion is a wonderful way to dig into the book and get different viewpoints, writing is also important. When writing, students have time to reflect without outside influences; to check in with themselves – their own thoughts, their own feelings. Be sure to provide time for some written responses, too. These 97 Wonder Question Cards are great for discussion or writing.