Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderReading level: 5.0
Lexile: 790
Genre: realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: Yes (mostly)
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

Wonder was one of the books that all kids wanted to read when I student taught 6th grade. One student in particular read it over and over. It was a natural choice to buy when I was looking for popular middle level books to add to my library.

I can’t say I was blown away, but it was a solid, memorable book. I was expecting it to be all from Auggie’s point of view, but I really enjoyed all the different viewpoints from his sister Olivia to her ex-best friend to Auggie’s friends. When someone you know and love has a disability or physical abnormality, those people’s lives are affected too.

I am a big fan of kids being nice to teach other. After the suicide of a friend due to bullying, I have zero tolerance for kids being mean. This story is a powerful message of the difference friends and bullies make. I would recommend Wonder to kids who feel different and need to know that their feelings are justified. I might also recommend it to kids who aren’t always nice to others to help them see the negative impact they make and the positive impact they could make if they made better choices. I’d also recommend it as an “easy” read for struggling readers because the story of straight-forward and easy to understand.

I’m a little surprised at the high lexile because it seemed pretty low level to me. That said, it’s ELL-friendly except for one chapter told from the viewpoint of Olivia’s boyfriend. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I don’t think there were capitals or correct punctuation.

For doing a book talk, I might ask students if they’ve seen kids being mean to each other or bullied. I might ask them to think about how awesome it felt when someone was nice to them when they needed support. I’d talk about how scary it is to start at a new school and how hard it would be if you’d never been to public school and had severe facial abnormalities. It’d be hard for that kid but also for the people who were nice to him as well as his family. A book talk may not be necessary because of its reputation, though.


A Bullying Video

Here is a link to a video called “To This Day” that a man made about being bullied and others who were bullied too. If the link doesn’t work, google something like “Shane Koyczan bullying.”It’s 7 minutes long, not counting the credits.

It’s beautiful and powerful. I can imaging showing it to my class, whether or not I’m aware of any bullying problem. The video can hit home for kids who are bullied and those who do the bullying. I don’t remember having any lessons or assemblies about being bullied when I was in school, but something as powerful as this video could have helped a lot of kids.

I suppose the video could be tied into a unit with a book where a character is bullied, and then students could discuss. Not that the video couldn’t be its own lesson. I’m just thinking “standards standards standards.” Maybe it would work well to show the video on one of the days during the first week of class to set the tone about how we treat each other and how what we say and do has lasting impacts on everyone. (<– that’s me thinking aloud.)

The only issue I see is that it’s fast-paced and students who doesn’t speak English as a first language or students who just need some extra time to internalize what’s being heard and seen might struggle. Like I said, it’s only 7 minutes, and students might watch the video several times. The words are from a poem, and the words can be found online without much trouble, so it might help students to have the words in front of them. Hearing the passion in his voice is so, so, powerful; therefore, I don’t recommend using the words alone without having seen the video.

Oh, and Shane Koyczan has a blog for his poetry: http://koyczanpoetry.tumblr.com/