- Christopher Paul Curtis
Publication Date: 1995-09-01
What will get you picked on quicker than being smart? Being smart and having a lazy eye. Meet Kenny Watson; age 10, middle child and the main voice of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963”. Kenny is a good kid who does well in school, helps take care of his younger sister and loves his family. However, Flint, MI is not an easy place to grow up. Kenny is a favorite target of the bullies at school who mock him about his eye and call him Poindexter. The teasing doesn’t stop when he gets home because Kenny is also the favorite target of his mean older brother, By. This book is largely told around Kenny’s walking us through what happened and it can take some time for him to tell it. He is nothing, if not thorough. When Kenny’s brother By becomes more trouble than his parents can handle, Mom and Dad Watson decide he needs to go and stay with family in Alabama. The whole family is going to take him there and the trip becomes an adventure made by the Dad’s purchase of an Ultra-Glide record player and Mom’s notebook which carefully breaks down where they can stop, who eats a peanut butter sandwich on the first day and tuna on the next. Just as the Michigan Watsons are acclimating to the Birmingham heat, a terrible act of violence makes them rethink their plans to leave By there for the summer. Kenny and his family reel from the aftershocks and the book takes on a somber and then healing tone.
This is a good book for trying to explain the desegregated South to young children as it is told by a naïve and sheltered child himself. I found it to be insightful and funny and geared towards older elementary readers. (The language can get a bit salty). Kenny Watson is an underdog kind of kid who doesn’t rise to amazing feats; he simply endures what comes at him and keeps on going, which is a great lesson in itself.
- R. J. Palacio
Publication Date: 2012-02-14
“Wonder” is targeted for ages 9-12 but I think it is a great read for any age. This book falls under children's literature, not even YA, but it was just so good, I have to share! I read this book in a day and half and cried for about a day and a half when I was done.
"Wonder" tells the story of August, a ten year old boy with severe facial deformities who is about to enter middle school, and a mainstream school, for the first time. The author does not come right out and describe what August looks like, but gives each character a chance to tell and I am left thinking he looks like the guy from the movie Mask, only more disfigured. Maybe even the third brother from "The Goonies". Anyway, you soon forget to imagine what he looks like because you are caught up in what he and the others are thinking. Auggie has not had an easy life and he is used to people staring at him, he expects the worst from people and he often gets it. He is slow to expect goodness or kindness but his happiness when he does experience it jumps at you from the page. While most of the kids at school are horrible to Auggie, or indifferent, he does make friends with some amazing kids and has good experiences along with the bad.
This book changes between the characters and often revisits a scene in order for each character to tell what he/she was thinking and tell it from their point of view. I love when a book switches voices, I just cannot read it fast enough. We hear from Auggie, from his sister Via and from an assortment of their friends. We do not hear the story told from an adult character, but the kids do an amazing job of describing their interactions with the adults and they leave you knowing what the adults are feeling or thinking. For example, Via describes seeing her mother standing outside Auggie's door in the middle of the night "her hand on the doorknob, her forehead leaning on the door. She wasn't going in his room or stepping out; just standing right outside the door, as if she was listening to the sound of his breathing as he slept". (Palacio, 99) I knew instantly that it was a mother calming her own fears by listening to the peaceful breathing of her child at night, convincing herself that he is okay, she is okay, that everything will be okay.
I like that the characters in this book, Auggie included, are not perfect. They are flawed, they are selfish, they are so very human. Auggie is not given a free pass because of his deformities; the author portrays him as selfish, as bitter and even using his disability at times to influence a situation. His sister and his friends are not always noble. They all wish that Auggie could just be normal or that they didn't feel like they needed to protect him, that they could just be cool with the other kids. The parents disagree, the parents admit to lying and the parents yell at their kids or miss opportunities to help or listen. It is how very genuine and honest these characters are that really gets you.
When I finished the book and finished crying, I picked it right back up again to read with my kids. This did not go over well because as my 9 year old said "we can read on our own" and it is killing the 11 year old with how long it takes to read when reading out loud. And while they could read it themselves, this book presents so many teaching opportunities and so many things to discuss on how to treat people. It also facilitates conversations about what the characters in the book are learning and how that connects to what they are learning themselves in school. Last night the 11 year old explained inherited traits to the 9 year old, she amazed me! I watched their faces as I read how no one will sit near Auggie on the first day and how he describes what it was like to walk into a crowded lunch room. They were mad, they were sad for Auggie, they said they would sit with them. I hope that they would. I can't wait to see their reaction at the end of the book and I can't read fast enough to get them there.
Read this book because it is a good story. Read it because it is so well-written it is hard to find fault with it. The only one I could come up with is that it was easy for me to see what would happen next, but really, I am a 39 year old woman reading a book meant for a 9 year old - I should be able to cue in on the foreshadowing. Read this because it makes you think about how you treated and still treat other people. Read it with your kids because they are out there treating or being treated in ways that will break your heart. Read it because someone will make a movie out of it and ruin it and you can say "I liked the book better". Read it because it will grab you by the heart and take a long time to let you go.
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