Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Books for the Times: Wonder

Yesterday I wrote about books for various age groups that deal with racism, diversity and prejudice. One thing I discussed is that teachers often teach racism as if it is a thing of the past, when it is still rampant today. Yet, much of the current literature that I shared does tell stories of the past. These stories are very important to share, but I’ve yet to find appropriate literature for children that tackles current racial issues in our country head-on. If anyone has any resources like this, please share! But, there are other resources we can use to build empathy and compassion in our students, and I wanted to share one in more detail today. 

 “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Fear is the root of so much evil. People do such hateful things to others out of fear of the unknown…”…they fear each other because they don’t know each other…”

Wonder, by RJ Palacio discusses fear of the unknown through the story of a fifth grader  named Auggie Pullman. Auggie has severe cranio-facial abnormalities. Due to multiple surgeries and issues, Auggie has been home-schooled up until 5th grade. This story follows his journey through 5th grade. RJ Palacio weaves an incredible story and shares from the perspectives of friends and family as they walk along Auggie. 

I don’t want to give too much away, because I believe that almost anyone would enjoy this book. And, if you haven’t read it, you must.   But, one huge plot point is how other children fear Auggie because they don't know him. If you buy the extended version with "The Julian Chapter" you will get a 5th grade appropriate dose of the type of hate and evil seen during Nazi occupied France. The fear of people who are "different" is weaved through the 1940s all the way into today's times. 

At the end of the school year I read this book to my 5th graders for a few minutes each day, and it is so powerful. The kids are so drawn in, and they love the message. This wasn't a big "novel study" and there were no tests given. But, we did watch this video during the last week of school.

Through the book, my students always wanted to see a picture of Auggie, but being fiction, there isn't one. And, there are no illustrations in the book. So, it is interesting to see the various, unique and beautiful faces seen in this short video!  After watching we wrote Kindness Pledges 
 and did some writing that reflected on the type of people we wanted to be as we moved forward in our lives. (And onto middle school!) 

If you're looking for something to read with your kids or your students to encourage students to celebrate differences and look beyond appearances, this is your book.

I could go on and on, but I'll leave you with a two of my favorite quotes. 

“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.” 
― R.J. PalacioWonder

“what I want you, my students, to take away from your middle-school experience,” he continued, “is the sure knowledge that, in the future you make for yourselves, anything is possible. If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary—the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” 
― R.J. PalacioWonder

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