A wonderful read that sparks some wondering…

What a wonderful book we have just finished reading in our household. It came highly recommended by a friend who had read it with her kids (a shout out to you here Libby, thanks!).

For me, a well written book tells a solid story, keeps me engaged and evokes my emotions.  So I was thrilled to discover R J Palacio’s very well written book, titled “Wonder”.  It’s the story of a boy – August (“Auggie”) – starting school for the first time. And its’ also the story of his courage in starting school, as he has significant congenital facial deformities. Plus it is the story of his journey from the perpsective of various people involved along the way.

It is an engaging story and it was hard to put this book down. Personally, I would have loved to stay up and indulge in an all-night read, but reading it to a child dictated otherwise.  Fortunately for me, said junior also found it compelling and requested extra chapters and deferred lights-out most evenings whilst reading this one.

There were several places where I was moved to tears as I read “Wonder”.  Over all the years of bed-time reading this hasn’t happened very often but whenever it has I must admit I’ve found it a little embarrassing to have a child’s eyes witnessing my beetroot face and my wobbly chin and hearing the squeak that replaces my usual voice. Of course, the ‘blubbering’ attests to the power of the great storyteller – deep emotions welling up in the reader without conscious control, simply triggered through empathy for what is happening in the story.  And I am pretty sure I am not the only person to cry whilst reading this very humane tale…., but I am curious as to whether we all cry at the same parts?

Don’t get me wrong it is not a sad story, but it is often poignant. For me the points that sparked tears were quite specific – including:- when big sis mentions having been witness to all that her little brother has been through with his surgeries from a young age; then when her grandmother declares her special love for big sis with reasons that show her deep empathy for the place of sibling; and then following a particular turning point (being suitably vague here to avoid spoiling the story) when Auggie can’t hold back his tears and finds himself crying openly amongst his peers – in that vulnerable moment a new mate doesn’t pull away but simply hugs him more – which also sprouted tears for me as my heart overflowed.  The tears are welling again as I recall these moments to write about them here!

I’m curious as to whether you too were moved to tears as you read “Wonder” – and where in the story this happened for you.  Is the relative poignancy of situations within this story dependent on the reader’s lived experiences and prior sensitivities and values?  Or do all readers shed a tear at the same points simply because we share a common humanity?

Explaining my tears to an inquisitive son, I described the chord being struck with my own lived experience of having a sibling with special needs. The community of compassion that arises in this book around the main character, Auggie, is such a delightful triumph. For those who share this lived experience of supporting the special needs for a family member who has some type of disability or difference, it is so good to have the resilience and triumph of all concerned celebrated in this book, not just dwelling on the challenges.

Knowing and loving someone with enduring special needs or differences is a powerful path for awakening empathy and compassion.  Shifting from “other” to “ours” – as in our aunty, our brother, our sister, our friend etc – can grow acceptance for diversity and difference, and stir a yearning for an inclusive society.

Reading “Wonder” is a great, down-to-earth way to grow and to refresh our appreciation for the human values and qualities that help to build community well-being and resilience. It can be a great discussion starter with your kids too.

If you haven’t read this story yet, I hope you get the opportunity soon.

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