December 2012 Issue
November 26, 2012

Check it Out: Wonder

Author: R. J. Palacio
Source: NYSUT United

Recommended by: Lonna Pierce, professional storyteller and school librarian, MacArthur & Thomas Jefferson Elementary Schools, Binghamton, member Binghamton Teachers Association

Suitable for: Grades 5-9

Why I chose this book: This book truly makes us examine our own attitudes toward the Auggies in our school. "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse," says August (Auggie) Pullman, when compelled to articulate his facial deformity. This anomaly has forced him to live an isolated life of endless medical procedures, home schooling due to frequent illnesses and a wistful desire to fit in and be accepted for the brilliant kid he is. No one can get beyond his appearance, and new challenges arise when he decides to go to school with other kids for the first time at a private Manhattan middle school. With perfect pitch for dialogue, the author draws us into the many-faceted experiences of Auggie and his supportive family as he copes with more than the average middle schooler.

What I like best: Humor. Auggie's voice is bright, unusual and extraordinarily funny amid the pathos of growing up with a birth defect so startling as to stop traffic. Yet all he yearns for is to be ordinary. He eventually learns "you can't blend in when you were born to stand out."

How teachers can use this book: This book begs to be read aloud to students, and is particularly appropriate for fifth graders, as that is Auggie's first foray into middle school. With anti-bullying awareness growing, this is the rare volume that gets inside the head of a person who has been stared at his whole life. Point of view — a common core mainstay — is delineated in this book through alternating chapter perspectives of Auggie's sister, Via; her boyfriend; his classmates; and others whose lives are touched by this wondrous boy. Each precept is listed on the author's website,, along with annotations, author information, and essential questions for teachers to discuss with students or book clubs. Some ideas: start by playing the song, "Wonder," by Natalie Merchant, and display the lyrics, an excerpt of the book, or one of Mr. Browne's (the teacher character) precepts on the board to get the ball rolling.

About the author: R. J. Palacio is a longtime art director and book jacket designer. Wonder is her first book.