Monday, August 10, 2015

BACK TO SCHOOL: Starting the New Year with a Wonder-ful Book


Let's give Meghan a warm welcome today as 
she shares a particularly wonderful book with us!

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Starting the New Year with a Wonder-ful Book:  R.J. Palacio’s Wonder

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Hello everyone! I’m Meghan from Living a Life in Books.  I’m a mother of a beautiful little girl, a middle school Literature teacher, and a lover of great books (specifically middle grade and YA).  I’m here to share the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  If you haven’t heard of the book Wonder, then you’re in for a treat!  It’s about a fifth grade boy named August Pullman who was born with facial differences that cause him to be stared at wherever he goes.  Sometimes kids even run away from him.  Due to a number of surgeries, he has been home schooled--up until now.  As Auggie starts school for the first time, he learns a lot about friendship and himself during his fifth grade year.

Wonder is the first novel I read and studied with my sixth graders because it encompasses so many great ideas and literary elements.  Broken up into into six different perspectives, we hear Auggie’s, his older sister’s, his new friends’, and even his sister’s friends’ points of view.  From a literary standpoint this allows for a lot of discussion on character development as well as point of view and plot.  From a much deeper level, it allows for an exploration of the perspective in life.  

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What I really love is that Wonder is about acceptance and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes--and not just in Auggie’s.  As readers, we make assumptions pretty quickly about some characters (just as we do in life), but then we hear their story, their side. Suddenly things make a little more sense, maybe we were a little quick to judge, or maybe we were right in our initial judgement.  Nonetheless, it’s a lesson on getting all the information and taking a step back from your own life and seeing what it’s like for someone else.  

I start the year with this book because in our school, sixth grade is when students start switching classes and things get crazier. The students are switching classes each hour, they have lockers, they aren’t walked from one class to the next, and they have a lot more freedom than they have ever had before. The cliques, which already were starting in prior years, become more solidified and it just gets tough to be a kid. My students need this at the start of the year.  It is the theme that carries us throughout the year in Literature. I end each class with the reminder, “Choose Kind and Make Good Choices.”  Choose Kind is the anthem that Wonder readers have embraced and I embrace it for my classroom. Make Good Choices is just my own good piece of advice that I hope they take with them into life. I read aloud the short companion piece Julian’s Story to help round out that perspective and we discuss. Acceptance is tough in middle school.  It’s hard to accept yourself, to accept others, and to accept change. Kids need help guiding them through and I hope that this wonderful book can help them do that.  

Wonder really does make for a positive start to the school year.  Whether you’re a teacher looking for a class novel or read aloud, a parent on the lookout for a great novel for your 4-7th grader, or anyone else for that matter, this book will make you want to change the world one child at a time.  It’s heart wrenching to read as a parent and an educator, but uplifting at the same time as you witness the growth in the characters.  I also recommend checking out the website devoted to Wonder and the Choose Kind initiative.  If you’re interested, there is also an interview on youtube with R.J. Palacio as she discusses Wonder and its importance and impact on the lives of children who have facial difference.

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