Wonder

October 27, 2017

You were probably an ordinary kid. Did you ever experience a terrifying first day in a new school?

Consider Auggie. He feels ordinary inside but no one else sees him as ordinary. As he expresses: kids don’t scream and run away if you’re ordinary….they don’t stare.

This is the advice 10-year-old August Pullman receives from his parents on the first day of school:

“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”

Because the movie Wonder releases in theaters on November 17, 2017, it seems timely to provide a review of the book.

Movie Trailer here.

Wonder
by R. J. Palacio

Wonder

Genre/categories: Middle grade through adult contemporary fiction,  growing up, difficult discussions, family life, friendship, character traits

Summary:

On the inside, ten-year-old August Pullman feels very ordinary. But as he says, ordinary kids don’t make other kids run away screaming and they don’t get stared at wherever they go. Auggie was born with a rare genetic abnormality that affected the formation of his face. Because of extensive surgeries and an attempt to protect him from cruelties of the outside world, Auggie’s parents have home schooled him. The reader meets 5th grade Auggie as he’s being enrolled in a traditional school for the first time. Will he be accepted? Will he find friends? Will he find a hostile or friendly environment? How will adults in his life support him? The story is told from six perspectives (August, Via–his older sister, Summer–a friendly caring peer, Jack–a student leader who struggles in his role as friend, Miranda–his sister’s best friend and a close family friend, and Justin–Miranda’s boyfriend) plus a bonus chapter from Julian’s point of view (Auggie’s nemesis).  Amazon Rating: (an amazing) 4.9 Stars

My Thoughts:

If you plan to see the movie, don’t miss out on reading the book first!  It’s an easy, engaging, thoughtful, inspirational, and meaningful read with valuable discussion possibilities for the entire family.

As we venture to school with Auggie, we feel his daily apprehension and celebrate his courage and determination. Even though he thinks of himself on the inside as an ordinary kid, we know he doesn’t look ordinary and his severe facial abnormality could cause him to be the object of unkind actions by his peers and to experience bullying.

Throughout the story, the narrative changes perspectives with each chapter. This helps us get a 360 degree understanding of Auggie’s world and also allows us to see the nice circle of people who care for him and support him. In addition, it allows the reader to understand that everyone battles something. Because this is written for a children’s audience, it does have a happy ending where ‘good” people are rewarded and the “bad” get their punishment. I like that there is an epilogue (extra chapter) in the current version of the book that follows Auggie’s nemesis Julian and we see how Julian changes and grows in empathy and compassion

The story takes a dramatic turn when Auggie overhears his friend Jack’s derogatory remarks about him; he is discouraged and devastated, and everything changes as he has to fight to rebuild what he’s lost. Through these authentic middle grade voices, we learn about true friendship, risk, and the importance of kindness.

I especially admire Auggies’s English teacher who each month presents the idea of precepts to live by and encourages students to write their own…an example of a precept he presents is “When given the choice between being right or kind, choose kind.” In an attempt to establish the habit of writing precepts as a lifelong practice, he encourages students to email their precepts to him in the years after graduation. Auggie’s 5th grade  precept is “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation once in their lives because we all overcometh the world.”

The following is a sampling of the types of quotes you will find from the adults in the story:

“Kinder than necessary,” he repeated. “What a marvelous line, isn’t it? Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Why I love that line, that concept is that it reminds me that we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness. And what does that mean? How is that measured? You can’t use a yardstick. It’s like I was saying just before: it’s not like measuring how much you’ve grown in a year. It’s not exactly quantifiable, is it? How do we know we’ve been kind? What is being kind, anyway?”

“….If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary–the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”

“It’s not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness. The power of one’s friendship. The test of one’s character. The strength of one’s courage–” 

Don’t miss out on this inspirational story filled with heart, heroes, and humor and which inspired the Kindness Movement. I expect that Wonder will become a beloved classic in upper grade classrooms and in family libraries. Highly recommended for every reader who believes in the power of teaching through a story and for every family who is in the process of building empathy, compassion, and kindness. I believe good literature can be enjoyed by all ages!

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”

My rating: 4.5 stars (I tried to read this and rate it from a kid’s perspective. As an adult reader, however, I lowered the rating by half a star because it could have included more beautiful writing and some adults seem stereotypical and could have been more fully developed.)

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Buy Here.

There is an additional book, Auggie & Me. It’s not a sequel, rather a companion read and an extension of Auggie’s world with three additional points of view.

Auggie & Me

More Information about Auggie & Me Here.

The Kindness Movement and Sign the Pledge Here.

The author interviews kids about kindness here.

Movie Trailer here.

 

Meet the Author, R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio was born and raised in New York City. She attended the High School of Art and Design and the Parsons School of Design, where she majored in illustration with the hopes of someday following in the footsteps of her favorite childhood author-illustrators, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Maurice Sendak, and the D’Aulaires. She was a graphic designer and art director for many years before writing Wonder. We’re All Wonders, which is based conceptually on the themes of her novel, represents the fulfillment of her dream to write and illustrate her own picture book. R.J. is also the author of Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories and 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is surrounded by magical water towers, with her husband, their two sons, and their two dogs, Bear and Beau. Learn more about her at rjpalacio.com or on Twitter at @RJPalacio.


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
Denise J Hughes


Extra:

In my last post, I indicated that I would read and review If the Creek Don’t Rise. I did read it; however, I decided that Wonder would be the primary focus of my review this week so that I can encourage you to read it before the movie releases. Here’s my brief review of If the Creek Don’t Rise.

If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don’t Rise
by Leah Weiss

Genre/categories: Literary Fiction, historical fiction, small town, rural, Appalachia, hillbilly culture

Summary:

Young Sadie Blue lives in the North Carolina mountain town of Baines Creek and suffers abuse at the hands of her drunken husband, Roy Tupkin. When a new teacher comes to town, Sadie begins to think of finding her voice and of a life that doesn’t include Roy.

Amazon Rating: 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

Harsh and hard realities of life in this remote Appalachian community make If the Creek Don’t Rise a gritty and sobering read. Young Sadie Blue is pregnant, abused, mistreated, and struggling to find her voice. Only a few chapters are from Sadie’s POV. The story is told from multiple viewpoints giving readers a good perspective of her life and the hillbilly community. Some characters offer hope and healing while others are despicable. Sadie does find her voice in a way that surprised me (but maybe it shouldn’t have given her situation and the hillbilly culture). As a teacher, I hoped to learn more about the new teacher’s contribution to the youth of the community….I’m always looking for hope and redemption in a story….but after the teacher’s strong introduction, she fades into the background of the story. This is also disappointing because she is important to Sadie. Overall, I enjoyed the read and the excellent writing; however, I hesitate to recommend it because I don’t think it’s a read that everyone would enjoy. It’s gritty and a bit dark but certainly an impressive debut novel. I would encourage you to read additional reviews.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Buy Here.


Looking Ahead:

My library hold of Young Jane Young finally came in so I think I’ll read and review that for next week. I’m a bit apprehensive because it borders on “chick lit” and that’s not my  usual genre. However, it’s a selected read for my online book club at Modern Mrs. Darcy and will be a good break from some heavier reads.

Young Jane Young

 

 

 

More Information Here.

 


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.


Let’s Discuss!

I’m curious if you’ve read Wonder! Do you have children that have read it? I’d love to hear your (or their) reflection. Do you plan to see the movie? How do you feel about teaching character traits such as empathy and kindness through literature? What are you reading this week?

 

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The Glass Castle

August 11, 2017

As Reading Ladies continues to focus on women authors writing about strong women, we’re using the occasion of the newly released movie to revisit/review an old favorite….

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Glass Castle

Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography

Summary:

This is a tender, tragic, and unique story of a girl’s remarkable resilience as she survives a childhood in a dysfunctional family who lived like nomads. The father is brilliant and charismatic and taught his children about imagination and living fearlessly as well as some physics and geology. A dreamer, he often worked on elaborate plans for their future home nicknamed “the glass castle.” However, he was also dishonest and destructive when he drank. On the other hand, Mother was a free spirited artist who didn’t (or couldn’t) take responsibility for the care of her children. For the most part, the Walls children took care of themselves, demonstrating ingenuity, determination, bravery, and fierce loyalty. As the children became adults, found the will and resources to leave the parents, and enjoyed some success, the parents followed them to New York city choosing to remain homeless. The adventures are remarkable, harrowing, memorable, and quirky, all the while demonstrating themes of fierce loyalty, triumph against the odds, the power of hope, unconditional love, determination, and protectiveness. Amazon rating (August): 4.6 stars

Read the first chapter free here.

My Thoughts:

For me, an indication of a remarkable book is one that is remembered years later, one in which I learned something new, and/or one that allowed me to make a personal connection. All three criteria are true for The Glass Castle. First, it has appeared for years on my list of recommended reads. In addition, this story allowed me to gain new insights into the often unstable personal lives of my students at a Title l school and also allowed me to reflect on the homelessness situation in that some choose this lifestyle. Finally, Jeanette reminded me in particular of one former student of mine as she and her mom often sought out different places to sleep for the night and often relied upon school resources for personal supplies, food, housing, etc. Like Jeanette, this student was determined to achieve despite her circumstances, a hard worker, and kept a positive (even cheerful) attitude–but unlike Jeanette, she had my support as a teacher and the support of the school (all of the staff were aware of her circumstances).  This student came back to visit me after she graduated from college (she was actually rescued in high school by an aunt). While reading the book, I wondered why a teacher or community members were not more alarmed by the family situation or notice her hunger. Of course, Rex did keep the family on the move.

Even years later, I remember enjoying this well written, engaging, and inspiring memoir, and its reflection on homelessness. One thing that struck me during the reading is that it was written with an attitude of forgiveness and surprising affection for the parents.  Some critics would argue that she seemed to condone or excuse her parents’ behavior; on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was written remarkably free from anger and self pity. When asked in an interview with the New York Times Magazine if she forgives her mother, she states, “It’s really not about forgiveness in my opinion. It’s acceptance. She’s never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.”

From reading an interview with Jeanette (on Amazon) we discover that her mom is now living with her after she initially refused but Jeanette said she needed help with the horses, an offer Mom couldn’t refuse. Jeanette states, “I get along great with Mom now. She’s a hoot. She’s always upbeat, and has a different take on life than most people. She’s a lot of fun to be around–as long you’re not looking for her to take care of you. She doesn’t live in the house with us–I haven’t that level of understanding and compassion–but in an out building about a hundred yards away. Mom is great with animals, loves to sing and dance and ride horses, and is still painting like a fiend. ”

The Class Castle is highly recommended for readers who love memoirs and stories about individuals overcoming difficult circumstances. My rating 4.5 stars.

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Glass Castle
Buy Here

The movie:

I was at the first showing today (release day!). Movie goers who’ve read the book are often difficult to please! To me, the movie adaptations seem to be the “Flat Stanley” version of the book, much of the depth and details of the story are sacrificed. This image sums it up!

a film and a movie

First, allow me to focus on what I liked. I thought the casting was good….especially Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls. In addition, I appreciated the portrayal of Jeannette’s unfailing hope that her dad would come through for them. Finally, I noticed the love that both parents had for their children even though they couldn’t provide the care they needed and deserved.

The weaknesses include the feeling that this was the Disney or fairy tale version of the real story. Although the real version would’ve been a difficult movie to watch! However, I thought they could’ve shown a few more examples for the audience to gain a true appreciation of the neglect. Otherwise, the audience wholeheartedly buys into the glorification of Rex at the end of the movie.  Yes, he loved them and shared some endearing moments with the family and those facts can certainly be acknowledged; however, the overall neglect cannot be overlooked or swept under the carpet. A glaring omission in the movie included the part about the children making their way to New York City one by one and establishing a life together there apart from their parents. This venture took a lot of determination, planning, and courage on their part (of course Rex taught them to be fearless and to be dreamers!). In addition, nothing was mentioned about the youngest child, Maureen, who seemed to suffer the most from the neglect, especially after the older ones leave home.

One striking connection that I made during the movie is the similarity to Hillbilly Elegy. In fact, reading Hillbilly Elegy before reading The Glass Castle would certainly add depth to the reading experience. They would make great companion reads (more on this next week). Both stories involve Hillbilly culture and the understanding gained in Hillbilly Elegy helps me better understand the Walls family. Another important similarity is the theme of love. J. D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy wouldn’t have made it without the love, support, and stability of his grandparents, even though the grandparents had many flaws and were less than perfect guardians. In The Glass Castle, the children felt Rose Mary’s and Rex’s love for them despite not being able to care for them. The deep love that parents or grandparents have for their children in spite of their flaws can make a significant difference in the ability of children to cope, survive, and perhaps overcome their childhood circumstances.

Would I recommend the movie?

Generally, yes. I think you’ll find the portrayal interesting and the chaos and the neglect are not as evident as in the book. I thought it was a simplistic portrayal of a very difficult story. I have the biggest issue with celebrating Rex at the movie’s end when he neglected to care for his family 90% of the time. I felt the ending sanitized the story. I encourage you to see the movie and then let’s engage here in the comments!

Movie Trailer

Meet the Author, Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire, USA Today, and New York.  I think it’s interesting that the impetus for writing The Glass Castle occurred when she was a gossip columnist and her lack of transparency and honesty about her own life caused her to feel guilty as she was exposing other people’s lives in her gossip column.

http://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Jeannette-Walls/19723841

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will review the memoir Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance if you’d like to “buddy read.” I think it’s a fascinating companion read with The Glass Castle!

Hillbilly Elegy

Buy Here

Please Share:

I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections on The Glass Castle (movie and/or book) in the comments section. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading, too!

Linked Up:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit here.