Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is a moving and uplifting story of 10 year-old August (Auggie) who was born with a facial deformity. The book would make a good class novel for pupils in years 5 or 6.

Auggie lives in New York with his parents and older sister.  In many ways he is an ordinary boy. He rides a bike and likes to play on his xbox. However, Auggie was born with deformities of the face and looks very different from other children.  At the beginning of the book, he tells us 'My name is August. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.' Auggie's appearance shocks people. People stare at him and others look away as soon as they see him. 

The predominant themes which emerge throughout the novel are: kindness, difference, family, courage and friendship. All of these make it a powerful story to read with children and provide opportunities to discuss at length the way individuals and society treat those who are perceived as 'different'. As such the novel would make an ideal choice for numerous areas of the curriculum: anti-bullying week, British Values, Diversity...

The story is told in the first person from a range of points of view. The story begins with Auggie and is told through his eyes. We see first hand how his deformity has impacted on his life and how he feels about the way others treat him, both strangers and his own family. There are also chapters narrated by his sister, his friends from school, his sister's boyfriend and his sister's friend. Pupils will, as they read the accounts from the different characters, see Auggie's life from those different perspectives. These perspectives would be good stimuli for looking at character motive and could be used in drama activities such as hot seating. The way the story is told helps pupils understand why the different characters behave in the ways that they do.

The vocabulary in the book would be accessible to the vast majority of year 5 and 6 pupils. What provides the challenge is the multiple perspectives we encounter of the same event. Pupils will need to realise that as we move from one section of the novel to another, we often go back in time to view the same events again but they are told to us by a different person. For those pupils who have not read widely or have ony just begun to read independently this may be challenging but with guidance and support not insurmountable.

A significant amount of the dialogue in the novel isn't tagged and as such some pupils may find it difficult to follow. These excerpts could be used for readers' theatre to: explore and identify who is saying what; consider characterisation (identify how each of the characters feel at that point and therefore how they might be saying the lines spoken); thought-tracking and playscripts.

There is also one section of the book which is told through a variety of means of communication: letters, facebook posts, texts and emails. The difference in register of each of the communications is interesting. The 'shifts in formality' are clear and could therefore be used as a model when discussing and teaching this aspect of writing.

Although the majority of readers won't have experienced Auggie's medical problems, you can identify with each and every one of the characters which makes it such a compelling read. It is a story which is funny, sad, moving and uplifting. 

The film is due to be released in the UK in December this year. I strongly recommend that you read the book with your classes before they see the film.

Publisher: Corgi Children's
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 978-0552565974  


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