Friday, March 21, 2014


In the last several weeks, I've seen the cover in pins and posts, its unique design burrowing into my memory. Finally, I looked for it. The only copy available, digital. I'd rather turn the pages of a book, but the touch pad accomplished the same thing, getting me from the first page to the last in a day. Now more than the cover has burrowed: the story also is lodged in my mind.

The book is Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

How can this book be useful in our language arts classes, home or school?

1. Read it as a reader. Enjoy. Apply.

2. Teach point of view. Each of the eight parts is written from a different point of view, sometimes Auggie's--the main character--other times his sister's or a friend's. For a picture book written with a similar structure, see Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne. Maybe reading these books will prompt students to write their own stories from various points of view.

3. Read it as a writer. Notice the author's creativity in including poems, book excerpts, letters, e-mails, a Facebook notification, texts, precepts, a graduation program, a commencement address...and even a high school boy's point of view with nary a capital letter. (I tutor a student who is allergic to capital letters. He may be fixing a paragraph or two.  Shhh, don't tell!)

Then investigate closer still. Below I show you the beginnings of my closer investigation into the text. It's amazing what you see when you slow down and study the author's craft. When students do the same, their minds are attentive to new possibilities they can try in their writing. Find a blank chart here.

(I'm sorry I don't have page numbers. The digital version doesn't include them.)

What I Notice
Specific Examples from the Text
1. The author varies the lengths of her sentences to give them a natural rhythm.
“I was really bummed when Christopher moved away three years ago. (11) We were both around seven then. (6) We used to spend hours playing with our Star Wars action figures and dueling with our lightsabers. (17) I miss that.” (3)
2. Lots of fragments
·         “Twenty-seven since I was born.”
·         “Or maybe I should say angelic.”
·         “A little peephole.”
3. Lots of compound sentences
·         “The bigger ones happened before I was even four years old, so I don’t remember those.”
·         “The last surgery I had was eight months ago, and I probably won’t have to have any more for another couple of years.”
·         “She once tried to draw me a Darth Vader, but it ended up looking like some weird mushroom-shaped robot.”
4. AAAWWUBBIS sentences
·         “Since I’ve never been to a real school before, I am pretty much totally and completely petrified.”
·         “When I came out of Mom’s stomach, she said the whole room got very quiet.”
5. Repetition
·         “So I’ve gotten used to not complaining, and I’ve gotten used to not bothering Mom and Dad with little stuff. I’ve gotten used to figuring things out on my own: how to put toys together, how to organize my life so I don’t miss friends’ birthday parties, how to stay on top of my schoolwork so I never fall behind in class.”
·         “My worst day, worst fall, worst headache, worst bruise, worst cramp, worst mean thing anyone could say has always been nothing compared to what August has gone through.”
·         “I wish I could ask him this stuff. I wish he would tell me how he feels.”
·         “We need to let him, help him, make him grow up.”
6. An extended metaphor
“August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun. The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets and orbiting the Sun. The only celestial body that doesn’t orbit August the Sun is Daisy the dog, and that’s only because to her little doggy eyes August’s face doesn’t look very different from any other human’s face.”
7. Similes
·         “To Daisy, all our faces look alike, as flat and pale as the moon.”
·         “His head is pinched in on the sides where the ears should be, like someone used giant pliers and crushed the middle part of his face.”
·         “Out of all my features, my ears are the ones I hate the most. They are like tiny closed fists on the sides of my face.”
8. The use of the colon
·         “Mom remembers exactly what the nurse whispered in her ear when the doctor told her I probably wouldn’t live through the night: “Everyone born of God overcometh the world.
·         There’s one shot of me at my third birthday: Dad’s right behind me while Mom’s holding the cake with three lit candles, and in back of us are Tata and Poppa….”
·         “And on the other side of the peephole, there were two Augusts: the one I saw blindly, and the one other people saw.”
·         “And then Grans told me she had a secret to tell me: she loved me more than anyone else in the world.”
9. The writing has a conversational, kid-sounding tone.

·         “Me and Christopher were looking for snacks in the kitchen…”
·         “Like, she’d bring Mom some ice chips, and then fart.”
·         “And he was like, ‘No problem!’”
10. The pattern of three
·         “This school was very different. It was smaller. It smelled like a hospital.”
·         “I’d just get mad. Mad when they stared. Mad when they looked away.”
·         “But it’s hard. It’s hard not to sneak a second look. It’s hard to act normal when you see him.”
·         “Horrified. Sickened. Scared.”
11. Participles
·         “What I remember the most from the day Grans died is Mom literally crumpling to the floor in slow, heaving sobs, holding her stomach like someone had just punched her.”
·         “Not just the front rows, but the whole audience suddenly got up on their feet, whooping, hollering, clapping like crazy.”

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