Last year, the fiction story, Wonder, by RL Palacio swept the country and made its way into the hearts of children and families everywhere, including Jenison. Wonder is the story of August, a fifth grade boy with facial differences who, up until the story begins, has been home schooled in an effort to protect him. However, his parents decide that he needs to experience more of the world and he is enrolled in a mainstreamed school for the first time. Auggie is faced with a series of antagonists as he struggles to find his spot in a new place but also finds friends and champions among the challenges. Wonder has been #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List for 36 weeks, been read by more than 6 million people and launched the Choose Kind Movement.
The 5th graders at Bauerwood joined in the fun by reading Wonder as a class book this year. Kathie Berens, Bauerwood 5th grade teacher says the experience of reading the book as a grade-level has been impactful for students. “Some of the reading was done as a whole group, some was done with partners, and some was done independently. It was a awesome to bring the reading back to a whole group discussion and allow each student to experience the journey of Auggie, Via and the rest of the characters together. We ended the Wonder-ful experience by creating yearbooks for Beecher Prep Middle School [Auggies school] filled with main events, important quotes, and favorite parts from the book.”
Students loved the book and despite it’s 300+ pages, they “ate it all up”! Students talked a lot about feelings and perspectives demonstrated in the story, as well as practiced their prediction skills.
One of the main themes in the story is the precept [guiding rule] that Mr Brown, Auggie’s teacher, presents in the story: When given the choice between right and being kind, choose kind. Ms Berens and the other teachers have encouraged students to take this idea into their own lives and they believe that this small statement, along with Auggie’s experience, will go a long way for them.
Piggybacking on this precept, teachers had each student design themselves as their own Wonder. Students used a computer website to design their face, then sketched and sharpie marked their design on a t-shirt with “Choose Kind” on the backs. Finally, they tie-died their shirts in Wonder blue [to match the cover] and everyone wore their shirts on their field trip.
To put an exclamation point on the experience of this story, the entire 5th grade class went to see the movie last Friday. This community-based experience gave students the chance to see the story come to life and even critique the differences between the book and movie.
“The kids LOVED the movie. We talked about the fact that we cried at some parts and laughed at other parts. It created a whole new level of emotional response and allowed students who struggle reading to visualize, create a picture for what they’ve read. We also discussed some of the differences between the book and the movie. Even though a few parts like the field trip and the relationships between Summer and Justin were different than in the book, it was still really fabulous to see the story come alive like what we saw with the movie in our heads as we read the book. I am so glad students were able to see the movie. There were mixed reviews on who preferred the book and the movie. It was a special opportunity that we all were able to experience both.”
Ms Berens looks forward to seeing how students will continue to exhibit the precept of choosing kindness in their classrooms and lives. “Wonder the book, and movie, share common themes of kindness, friendship and courage. Our class has latched onto Mr. Brown’s first precept in the book, “When given the choice between being right and being kind… choose kind.” We understand that kindness is a choice that we can make every day and that it’s a choice that makes a huge difference in the lives around us. A way we can make a difference each and every day is to choose kind.”