Have you ever been with your children and cringed at how they reacted to someone on the street? I have. The other day my 5-year-old son and I were walking down the sidewalk and a man walked by. I didn’t even notice him. But immediately afterwards, and far louder than I would have wished, he said in a matter-of-fact tone: “He looked weird.” I’m not sure what “weird” means to my son, or where he might have conceived his definition of what “weird” looks like, but I sure felt like hiding under a rock.
When R.J. Palacio, author of the New York Times #1 Bestseller Wonder, sat on a bench outside an ice cream parlor with her two sons one day, she had a similar cringe-inducing experience. A little girl with severe facial deformities was also on the bench. Her youngest, who was three at the time, noticed her and began to scream.
Sure, we know screaming isn’t the “right” reaction, but what is? Is it kind to tell your children “don’t stare,” as I remember hearing when I was a child. Or do you allow your children to be more curious and outright ask a person about their difference?
It was this encounter that sparked the book Wonder. August, the novel’s main character, says: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” And yet, more than anything, August just wants to blend in. His craniofacial difference makes that impossible, and so this book is a thoughtful piece that revolves around the issues of judgement, kindness, courage, and support.
Stella, my daughter who is soon turning 11 years old, told me that this was an excellent book. Her comments on it, in her own words include:
- “This book talks about differences respectfully. But there are lots of funny parts.”
- “I’ve never read a book that dealt with someone who was so different. I’ve read books that had a main character whose sibling had some kind of difference (like a syndrome or disability) but never the main character.”
- “Before I used to try my best to not stare at people because I know it feels awkward if someone stares at me. But August wants to be treated like everyone else — to smile, say hi. So now that I know, I will do this too.”
- “The book changes perspectives to different characters in the story. I mostly really liked this. But sometimes the perspective would be a minor character who didn’t have much to do with the story. It kinda of gravitated the story away from August.”
To find this book: I purchased our copy at our local Chapters/Indigo store, priced at $17.99 and published by Alfred A. Knopf. The Common Sense Media guide recommends this book for age 11 and up and you can read their review here.