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One School, One Book: Wonder

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Every year we select a book to read together over the summer as a community. This year, we’ve chosen a book called Wonder by R.J. Palacio, about a child with a facial deformity who decides to attend an independent school for middle school. It’s wonderfully warm and funny and will help us reflect on how schools build welcoming communities and teach kindness.

Many of our middle school students have read this book and it has generated rich discussions. The story is written from the perspective of the student himself, his classmates, the student’s older sister and her boyfriend. As various characters struggle with how to fit into the middle school culture and work through their feelings about the main character, the reader gets a real sense of the social lives of adolescents. How the parent community reacts to the new student and how parents talk about what they value will also generate some great dialogue. As seventh and eighth grade humanities teacher Terry Ashkinos says, “There is something brilliant about the narrative style in that we are given multiple perspectives as each chapter is told by a different narrator. In this way we are really forced to think about how this story unfolds from each character's perspective which, in turn, helps us understand the perspective of the ‘other’ in our own stories.”

This book is written for middle school students and represents a change in the usual parent/teacher educational book that we have chosen over the past several years. In light of this, I asked several CDS parents to read this book and share their responses to it. They all loved it and thought it would be a wonderful starting point for discussions on kindness and community. Here is what Caroline Cho and Kent Jenkins (parents of third grader Carter) said about their experience reading Wonder: “What a page turner! A heart-warming book with genuine characters whose experiences ring true. There is a lot to relate to for parents and students; the conversations and cultural references could have easily have been pulled from our own homes or the CDS yard. It made us want to be better people.”

Wonder is a quick read, so please take some time this summer to enjoy Wonder. CDS will facilitate division-level book discussion groups in September.