Alpha Mom Must List: Read “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
This summer, my rising 5th-grader son and his middle school peers were asked to read the young adult novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio as a homework reading assignment. Parents were asked to read the book as well, and I am so happy I did.
Wonder is a beautiful and touching novel about a NYC boy named Auggie who has a severe craniofacial deformity and starts middle school in the 5th grade after being homeschooled through out his elementary years. But really, Auggie’s story is a universal one. It’s about being different, which all children are. And, probably never do children feels so acutely different from each other as they do during those awkward years of middle school when they go through rapid and noticeable changes. It’s just that Auggie is really different physically, and yet he’s also just like every other 10 or 11 year old kid.
My memories of attending middle school, during the early eighties, were that teasing and bullying were basically accepted by educators, parents and students as a rite of passage. A stupid coming-of-age milestone. Luckily, over the last decade or so we have seen tolerance for bullying dissipate and conversation about it in all its obvious and inconspicuous manifestations being discussed widely in the media and schools nationwide.
I recently heard Wonder’s author, RJ Palacio, speak about her book. She’s not a parenting expert or professional. Instead, like us, Palacio’s a mom who, while with her young children, once had a chance encounter with a young girl with a severe craniofacial deformity. Rather than appropriately model acceptance of such physical difference in front of her children, Palacio blew it. Her bumbling, yet very well-intentioned, handling of that encounter haunted her and also inspired her to write Wonder. Auggie’s story, while fictional, is founded in universal truths of middle school as incredibly keen observer of children and their social dynamics. As a mom of now middle and high school sons, Palacio’s characters are rooted in the children of today. The characters are rich and more importantly, completely credible.
My son and I both learn best through storytelling and I think we are so fortunate to have Wonder as this generation’s book to model kindness amongst school children. I want my son’s middle school rite of passage to be acts of kindness, even in the face of fear.