Paige Micheals is a fifth grader at Princeton Intermediate School. Last month, her teacher, Desirae Jensen, read the book “Wonder” aloud to the class. Then they all went – along with other classes – to watch the movie.
Which did she like better? “The book, because it had a lot more interesting details!” Paige told me. Was it a good book to hear read aloud? Yes, it definitely kept her attention.
Although Paige doesn’t know any kids who look as different as Auggie (the main character) she can imagine what it would be like to meet someone like that. Her class discussed what they would do and decided that the best approach is, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s an appropriate metaphor. And it’s also a really great precept.
Precepts are important in the “Wonder” story. One of the teachers defines “precepts” as “rules about really important things.” The September precept is “When given a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
Kindness is one of the major themes of the story, and we get to watch as several young people learn for themselves the consequences of clever cruelty and the consequences of kindness.
It’s “a beautiful, funny and sometimes sob-making story of quiet transformation,” says the Wall Street Journal.
Reading about kids facing life’s challenges and facing them well is one of the main ways kids learn how to live well. Another way is through direct instruction. Paige told me she and her classmates learned way back in kindergarten that if someone is mean to them, they should “Stop, Walk and Talk.” This means to first try telling the person to “stop” being mean. If that doesn’t work, they should “walk” away. If it’s still a problem, they should “talk” to a grown-up who can help. Stop, Walk, and Talk is another good precept for life.
The book “Wonder” was published in 2012, and it was a tremendous help for one family whose son was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, just like the main character in the novel. Recently 20/20 reported on their experience, which is remarkably similar to the fictional experience described in the book although R.J. Palacio had never met them. You can watch the entire episode by searching online “20/20 11/17/17 Wonder.”
The author shared on 20/20 that she and her young son had a random encounter at an ice cream shop with a little girl who had Treacher Collins syndrome. Her own awkward reaction that day haunted her and ended up being the spark for writing her first novel. Palacio’s book has sold five million copies and been translated into 45 languages.
One of my favorite lines from the movie is spoken by the school principal. He is talking to the boy who has been writing mean notes to Auggie as well as pressuring other kids to ostracize him. The principal gently explains, “Auggie can’t change the way that he looks, but we can change the way that we see.”