Top 100 Children’s Novels #65: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I was going to go with a classic, but couldn’t pick from so many possibilities (and I know others will surely choose them) so I decided to go the other route and pick a brand new title from this year. Palacio does the unbelievable in creating a book with a theme of kindness that doesn’t give you cavities. Looking forward to more by this new author! – Heather Christensen
Put this in every school library everywhere, please! Every library anywhere, really. A story about an otherwise average 10 year old boy with severe facial deformities attending school for the first time. It succeeds in teaching empathy without being overly sentimental or Beaches-style manipulative in pulling your heart strings. What I think it does best though is create a magnifying glass that shows us how we react to difference through the frank and honest perspective of various kids’ voices. It’s a bit shaming at times, but with the power to change and open minds. It’s very readable and the rotating narrative adds perspective and keeps things moving. – Nicole Johnston
Surprisingly, when this poll was held in 2010 no books from that particular publishing year made the Top 100, and even if they had would they have been as high as #65? It takes a particularly special book to garner that kind of love. And Wonder is some kind of somethin’. The current frontrunner for the 2013 Newbery, it has been mentioned in Entertainment Weekly and other trade publications.
The description from my review reads, “Auggie Pullman has never had to go to school with other kids. Lucky him you say? Not so much. You see, Auggie’s a great kid. Loves his Star Wars and his Xbox and all the other stuff kids are into. He also has had more surgeries than most people go through in an entire lifetime, and he’s only in the fifth grade. Born with severe birth defects that have rendered his face very different from that of other kids he’s been homeschooled for years. Now, at long last, he has a chance to go to a small school near his home for the first time. He’s always had to deal with people treating him differently. The real question is whether or not he can get them to look beyond his face to see how he’s just the most ordinary kid you ever did know.”
Note that both the commenters above compliment Ms. Palacio on her ability to do a meaningful bit of subject matter without goo or treacle. As Heather put it, “a theme of kindness that doesn’t give you cavities” and Nicole concurs saying it shows, “empathy without being overly sentimental or Beaches-style manipulative in pulling your heart strings.” That is the true art of the book. So where did it come from? Well, in a recent profile in PW Ms. Raquel Jaramillo (the real name of R.J. Palacio) explained the true inspiration behind the book:
“A chance encounter with a little girl who looked the way Jaramillo imagines Auggie looks provided the seeds of her novel. The girl, her mother, and a friend sat next to Jaramillo and her young sons outside an ice cream shop. Her younger boy, only three at the time, started to cry. Her older son maintained his composure but was visibly unsettled. As Jaramillo quickly escorted her boys away – not for their sakes, but to spare the little girl’s feelings – she was impressed by the grace with which the girl’s mother handled the situation. Jaramillo played the scene over repeatedly in her head – what it must be like for the other family, what the right thing was for her to teach her boys. “I started writing that very night,” she says. “I just could not stop thinking about it.”
So here is the book trailer:
And here the author reads a chapter:
The book jacket is, at this point in time, fairly iconic. All the more interesting when you see what the Australians have done instead:
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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