I recently have read and fallen into awe over R.J. Palacio’s Wonder for the KIRB Appeal Book Club at Warren County Public Library. This story follows an inspiring young boy named Auggie Pullman who suffers from a myriad of health issues resulting in severe facial deformities as he ventures into public school the first time as he enters fifth grade. Though much younger than me, Auggie reminds readers of all ages of the importance of being kinder than necessary. He faces his obstacles, much like anyone faces personal issues, as he hides them, thus blocking his connection to others and his way to see how to overcome his struggles, understands his differences and how he may have to take care of himself differently than other people do, learns not to let mean people ruin his otherwise good days, and adjusts his perspective on people’s reactions to his visible struggles and differences all the while demonstrating the power of kindness.
Toward the beginning of the story, Auggie shares how he lets his hair fall into his face because “it helps me block out the things I don’t want to see” (21). He even shares that he had the forethought to grow it out so he could do that; he wanted to hide his face and his struggle with his health issues. This makes sense; no one likes to have people stare at them. I too know what it feels like; I simply wear gloves at work and catch people glancing at them in contemplation of why I would wear them. Most of them end up asking questions about them, rarely seeming to understand I do it to protect my skin and health (not wearing them results in numerous bleeding cracks, which sometimes lead to bubbly staph infections…all of which hurt). It feels easier to hide the problem and try to ignore it. Yet, it can’t really go away. Auggie hiding his face may have kept people from quickly noticing his difference, but it also kept him from engaging in the world around him. With the hair over his eyes, he not only couldn’t see people’s silly stares, he couldn’t see his own world or goals. As he discovers, people stare either way. I have received as many questions about my cracked hands before I wore gloves as I have while wearing the gloves; I have decided I’d rather get asked about the gloves and not have the infections. This allows me to get through my days more successfully. Auggie does the same thing by putting his best face forward and going to his school every day rather than going back to homeschooling and not having a school community or group of friends.
By showing up to school and taking care of himself, Auggie demonstrates his understanding that he is a little different than most people. His cleft palate and other issues make it harder for him to eat. Therefore, he must chew his food with his front teeth rather than in the back of his mouth like most people. Some people may react to this since it normally might get perceived as rude or might get crumbs on the table. However, not eating this way could result in him choking. Auggie understands that he must take care of his choking risk with greater care than the average person. Again, I sympathize with my skin issues. I must protect mine more than the average person. I might get some silly stares and questions for my unusual use of gloves, but not wearing them increases my risk of illness and infection. So I must understand that I might have to care for myself a little differently or with more effort.
In his higher level of understanding from being different from the other kids, Auggie achieves a level of perspective and peace I have yet to perfect. He realizes most people don’t mean to be rude or mean when they point at him because of the difference they see in him. He notes that they don’t laugh when they point and reflects that if a Wookie went to his school he may do the same thing out of curiosity (62). This bit of wisdom seems to keep him from letting those people bother him. He takes his difference in stride. He may look odd and may have to care for himself in ways others don’t expect or find odd, but he knows what he has to do and rolls with it.
Auggie’s ability to roll with the punches doesn’t come without its rough days though. He almost quits school after learning about some kids making fun of him behind his back. He also suffers physical harm at the hands of bullies from another school, almost taking away his great joy from the rest of that weekend’s activities with his friends. Auggie’s sweet, supportive mom reminds him, “No, sweetie, don’t let them do that to you. You were there for more than forty-eight hours, and that awful part lasted one hour. Don’t let them take that away from you, okay?” (277). The comments and stares I get come as part of the beauty of working retail. I admit I have let some of the ignorant and mean comments stew in my mind longer than they should. I have worked to hold a perspective closer to that of Auggie’s. Usually for each time someone says something ignorant, I can find someone who authentically thanks me for my help or kindness. I also remind myself that most these people are fortunate enough to not be able to relate to my health issues and therefore don’t understand the depth or complexity of them.
The reality exists that we all face some sort of difficulty on some sort of regular basis. Some of these struggles others can see, while others people can’t. As Wonder shows, everyone gets bullied to some extent, whether by intentional meanness or the ignorant variety, at some point. That demonstrates the importance of this story’s lesson: to show a little more kindness than is necessary. Auggie’s teacher Mr. Tushman quotes the James Barrie story The Little White Bird to emphasize this idea’s origin. Then he shares an example of Joseph in the movie Under the Eye of the Clock where someone does a small act of kindness for Joseph and how that one small gesture tremendously impacts Joseph. Mr. Tushman quotes, “‘It was at moments such as these that Joseph recognized the face of God in human form. It glimmered in their kindness to him, it glowed in their keenness, it hinted in their caring, indeed it caressed in their gaze'” (300). Auggie’s perspective on others’ treatment of him and his reactions to others demonstrate the difference kindness can make on people.
We all face difficulties, and we all have aspects of ourselves and our experiences that make us different from others. Like Auggie, we can grow our perspectives on them so we don’t let those differences hinder our ability to engage with our lives and to take care of ourselves. Books like this help us remember that we all face challenges and we can all show kindness to each other. Ignorant or mean remarks don’t have to ruin our otherwise good days, and a little extra kindness truly can make someone’s day or life a little brighter. Let’s all be a little kinder than necessary.
***Each year, members of KIRB Appeal collect spare change in jars to donate to a charity at the end of the year. Since we have read this book first this year, we are donating to a charity that helps kids with cleft palates.