by R.J. Palacio
Review by Tomball ISD Chief Academic Officer Martha Salazar-Zamora
As educational leaders, we strive to find the next good read that will effect change in our districts.“Wonder,” a children’s novel, does that and much more. It transforms lives and brings us back to the core of who we are as educators and as humans.
“Wonder” is the story of August (“Auggie”) Pullman, who was born with a facial abnormality and spends his childhood hiding under a toy astronaut helmet. In an attempt to protect Auggie from the cruelty of the outside world, his parents homeschool him until the fifth grade. That’s when he enters public school and dread sets in.
Auggie desperately wants to be accepted, but can he convince his classmates that, underneath it all, he’s just like them? He makes both friends and enemies and experiences the best kind of friendship and the worst kind of taunting from classmates. He luckily has the support of his teachers.
“Wonder” is Auggie’s story, but it’s also ours. The novel captures the dual nature of childhood — its cruelty and its tenderness, the wounds we inflict, the scars we carry and all the lessons that teach us to do things differently the next time. In the novel, a teacher named Mr. Browne introduces the precept: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” This precept echoes throughout the book in various ways.
“Wonder” truly is made for reading, discussing and sharing. I chose to share it with students, staff, parents and others. We purchased sets of the book for each campus. What began as a reading initiative grew into a larger district- and community-wide initiative. Throughout the school year, the novel’s message was reinforced through Wonder-inspired songwriting, poetry, wall art and a play. Students raised funds through an art contest for the best drawing to place on T-shirts. More than $3,000 in proceeds from that sale were donated to the Craniofacial Anomaly Association.
At the end of the year, we brought the author to the district to speak to more than 2,000 students, staff and community members. Many of the students had never met or interacted with an author before. Mrs. Palacio spent time in a Q&A session and graciously answered the students’ questions.
Through efforts to involve the community in the initiative, our city council adopted a resolution and proclaimed a Wonder Day to “choose kind.” The mayor shared the book with council members and interested community members. As “choose kind” became our way of doing things, we saw this small book have a huge effect on how people treated each other in our community.
Educational leaders read for interest, growth, pleasure and many other reasons. This experience reminded me of the power of reading and how that power can change lives! I can look back with a smile and know that many lives were positively impacted from this small yet mighty book.