Wonder: How a Book Changed My life

Wonder%3A+How+a+Book+Changed+My+life

Sara Saidel

Slider image by Eliana Saidel.

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” This is a line from the first chapter of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Wonder is a beautiful novel about August (Auggie) Pullman, a boy with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the development of bones and other tissue in the face,  as he begins school for the first time in fifth grade. It details his struggle of living with his deformity and his journey through middle school.

This book changed my life, challenged me to think about how I treat others and caused me to practice valuable traits like compassion, empathy, and kindness. I read it first in fifth grade, and I still consider it to be one of my favorite books. I strongly beleive it gives a brilliant insight on valuable traits that I still use and find to be very important in my life.

It can be difficult sometimes for young kids to be compassionate and empathetic. These are traits that are not so easily learned and take time to cultivate as kids mature. Wonder is an exceptional resource through which children can learn these critical traits while enjoying an entertaining story. The story doesn’t only follow Auggie through his experiences at school. It also tells the story of his family, friends, and everyone else who impacted his life. The method of having first-person perspectives of multiple characters throughout the book heightens the impact as Auggie’s point of view allows the reader to understand what it’s like in his shoes, and everyone else’s perspective delivers the book’s message-we must treat those that are different from us with kindness.

Auggie’s unique appearance is something I could never truly imagine when I read the book. I had tried to imagine how he might look in my mind, but R.J. Palacio’s choice to omit a description left me unable to picture what his face might look like. In the film by the same name that came out on Nov. 17, the director chose to show Auggie’s face, allowing the viewers to get an idea of what their favorite character looks like. A movie like Wonder is so incredibly important because most people of all ages don’t know many others with this condition and find it hard to know how to react. “Wonder” shows that even if someone may look different than others, it is still important to treat them with compassion.

At the school I attended before Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, we read this book in fifth grade. Reading Wonder while being the same age as the characters in the book deepened my own understanding of the story because I could relate more to the characters. For the last few years, the fifth graders at HBHA have been reading Wonder and have had their own unique reactions to it.

Fifth grade teacher Nancy Franks has been including Wonder in the fifth grade curriculum for three years and when asked what her initial reaction to it was, she said, “I knew it fit perfectly to fifth grade. It’s about a boy in fifth grade, he attends a private school, and really in any grade, it’s so important to teach about feelings, and respecting each other, and I think this book does a superb job of doing that.” Mrs. Franks also said that Wonder is “a story fifth graders could relate to.” She said “the lesson it teaches of making good choices and the way to live your life, fits perfectly for this age group.” Mrs. Franks believes that Wonder most impacts her students because “in many ways they can all relate to all the characters in the story. They can even relate to Auggie and the things that happen to him. Though there’s not a lot of bullying in our school, but there are times when kids aren’t treated kindly, and on any level, they could relate to Wonder in that way.”

The fifth graders are happy to read Wonder! Photo by Sara Saidel.

Besides the deep, underlying messages of Wonder that take some analyzing to uncover, there are also many simple lessons that it teaches. Fifth grader Leah Snitz, who read Wonder with her class, said that she loved the characters in the book because “they were willing to do anything for the people they loved”. Leah believed that the most important lesson the book taught her was to “not to judge a book by it’s cover.”

Auggie Pullman’s story is a great one. It shines a light on a topic that is not usually covered in literature and media in a way that not only brings joy to all who read it, but it teaches them valuable lessons and traits that are used in everyday life. My life would not be the same without this book, and I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today. Auggie and the rest of the beautiful characters in Wonder have all taught me how to be a better person and how to live my life with kindness, and that is truly a wonder.