Wonder is a children's novel by Raquel Jaramillo, written under the pen name of R. J. Palacio. The book is listed for children in grades 3-7. It inspired the “Choose Kind” movement, has been translated into several languages, and has been made into a major motion picture which released in late 2017.
Wonder is a work of fiction, but the idea for the book is based on an event in Palacio’s life. She took her three-year-old son to an ice cream shop. While they were waiting in line, her son noticed a girl with facial birth defects and started to cry. Palacio immediately attempted to leave because she feared her son’s reaction would upset the girl or her family, but this only made the situation worse.
Palacio couldn’t get the incident out of her mind. What should she have done? How do you teach young children to accept people with differences? How could she learn to be more accepting? Being a writer, she began to research facial birth defects and learned about the challenges faced by these children…potential eating, breathing and hearing difficulties, painful surgeries, ostracism and bullying. The list went on and on and these challenges followed them into adulthood.
Palacio was inspired by Natalie Merchant's song "Wonder" to try to turn the incident into a teachable moment. She named the book, Wonder, and used the song's chorus as the prologue of the first chapter.
Palacio divided the book into sections written by different characters. The first section is written by August “Auggie”Pullman, a young boy with facial birth defects. Augie lives in New York with his parents, his older sister Olivia who is nicknamed “Via,” and their dog, Daisy. Auggie has been homeschooled, but his parents want him to transition to a private school at the start of 5th grade.
Palacio chose to make Auggie’s parents affluent, so the monetary burdens of his condition are never a factor. They select an elite private school setting for Auggie believing the smaller size and exclusivity of the school will help protect Auggie from bullies, but unkind people can be found anywhere.
Part of me wonders how Auggie would have fared in a less affluent area in a public school. Perhaps Palacio took financial concerns off the table to concentrate on her message about kindness or maybe she wanted to point out that money doesn’t guarantee a perfect life.
The book chronicles Auggie’s first year at Beecher Prep through his eyes and through the eyes of the special people in his life. As the narrators change, Palacio does an excellent job making us believe we are seeing Auggie’s world through fresh eyes.
I experienced a myriad of emotions reading about Auggie’s life…pride, admiration, indignation, anger, sadness and even guilt because I know there have been times I have stared or looked away when I should have smiled and treated the person before me like any other person.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I will. The book is always better, and I would recommend Wonder for people of all ages. I’d read it to younger children. In these pages is a conversation we all need to have. If this were me or my child, how would I want people to behave? How do you treat people with physical differences, physical challenges or mental challenges? You treat them like people. Make eye contact and see the person not the imperfection. Don’t overcompensate, devalue their intelligence, or assume they are helpless.
We will never live in a perfect world where everyone is beautiful and physically perfect. Unfortunately, there will always be accidents and illnesses. I believe true ugliness is entirely preventable. It comes from our thoughts and our actions. Both of which we can control.
Wonder is available at book stores, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and barnesandnoble.com. Palacio has written Auggie & Me, 365 Days of Wonder, and We’re all Wonders to expand on the themes of Wonder.
Wonder cover art by Tad Carpenter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wonder_Cover_Art.png