2013's Buckeye Children's Book Award winner for grades 3-5 was Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I have been a big fan of this book since it came out, and I was astonished that it didn't win a gold or silver Newbery award. So I was thrilled when it won the BCBA!
Our story is about a boy named Auggie who is about to start 5th grade. Up until now he has been homeschooled, as he has had to have several surgeries (27!) for his facial deformities over the years and wouldn't be able to attend traditional schooling. Auggie is very self conscious about his appearance, so when his mother asks him to try going to a private school, Beecher Prep, he is reluctant to go. While at an introductory meeting at the school, Auggie meets 3 classmates -- Jack, Julian, and Charlotte. Auggie gives school a try, and finds himself befriending Jack and a girl named Summer (who sits with him at lunch when no one else does). Julian, unfortunately, bullies Auggie and often makes mean comments about Auggie's appearance and eating habits.
Halloween arrives, and Auggie enjoys dressing up as the "Bleeding Scream" because no one knows it's him under the mask -- all the kids see is just another kid enjoying Halloween. However, Auggie ends up overhearing Jack say something extremely hurtful about him to Julian. Upset, Auggie tries to quit school, but his sister Via convinces him to stay. Jack doesn't understand why Auggie starts to avoid him, and he lets the friendship drop, until he discovers that Auggie overheard him. He punches Julian after Julian says something particularly mean, and apologizes to Auggie for his Halloween remarks. Once they are friends again, they must deal with Julian and his friends as well as a group of mean-spirited 7th graders, all the while trying to show others that Auggie is more than his physical appearance.
The book separates into 6 different viewpoints throughout the story, which I think really makes the book special. In this way, we are able to get a better understanding of how and why things happened, and how certain characters feel about what they are seeing and dealing with. Auggie's voice is the most powerful and moving, but I also enjoyed seeing his sister's side of things. There are many books out there that deal with special needs and differences, but not that many from a sibling's perspective or a classmate's perspective, which I think are all necessary to tell a truly great story.
Via's desire to be seen as her own person (and not "Auggie's sister"), and her love for her brother -- Jack's desire to fit in and have Julian like him, and his struggle with that in the face of what he knows is the right thing to do -- Auggie's loneliness and his struggle for people to accept him and see his humanity, not his face -- Summer's thoughts about her classmates and Auggie's stuggle amidst the best and worst of kids (and even adults)...it all makes for such a fantastic, heartbreaking, and uplifting story.
I have not heard of a student ever saying that they didn't like this book. So many use this as a read aloud, and I always recommend it (and the kids go crazy for it!). It really makes the reader think about choosing to be kind, and how people can be hurting in ways you can't even fathom -- and how our choices, even small ones, can make a big difference (for good or bad) in others' lives.
There are many "spin-off" titles -- 365 Days of Wonder (Mr. Brown's Precepts) and short novellas featuring characters from the book (such as Julian) -- and I recommend reading all of them. I adored Mr. Brown's Precepts in the story. As a former classroom teacher, I loved using quotes for a variety of things with my students, and the kids always had such interesting things to say about them.
I always recommend Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Rules by Cynthia Lord, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, and Counting By 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan to kids who enjoyed Wonder. Recently, I've also added Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson, and Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff to the list.
Do you have any other recommendations you'd make for those who like Wonder? Jill, are you excited for the 2014 K-2 winner? :)
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