Friday, May 26, 2017

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 Ages 9+

Wonder by R.J. Palacio should be required reading for every student the summer before they begin middle school. All children approaching the threshold between childhood and adolescence can relate to the emotions, fears, and hopes in this story of growing up and growing stronger.

Wonder teaches us that real friendship is something that is born not only from mutual interests, and similar values, but from the desire to raise each other up when the world tries to bring us down.

August Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who lives in Manhattan. He is obsessed with Star Wars, loves his dog, and has a deeply loving family. He is an ordinary boy in almost every way…except for the way that he isn’t.

August (Auggie) has never gone to a regular school. This is because he spent much of his childhood in and out of hospitals undergoing and recovering from Cranial-facial surgeries.
Auggie, in a one-in-4-million-chance occurrence, was born with Mandibulofacial Dysostosis and a Cleft Palette- which means his face doesn’t have all the bones necessary to keep it in the shape people are used to. His eyes are asymmetrically placed and very low on his face; his cheeks are sunken in; his mouth cannot turn up on the sides; and he does not have fully formed ears. Unlike the almost adorable depiction of August Pullman that Hollywood has decided to use in the upcoming movie version of Wonder, Auggie looks markedly different than most children, and for this he has been surreptitiously stared and gawked at all his life.

August’s parents love their son immensely and want him to have the most normal life he possibly can, despite his abnormal appearance. So, they ask Auggie if he would be interested, now that he doesn’t need as many surgeries, in entering Beecher Prep Middle School in the fall.
At first, August is adamantly opposed to this idea- fearing the ridicule and attention- but he eventually relents.

Auggie’s first year in Middle School contains everything he'd hoped and feared: ridicule, cruelty, conflict, friends, loyalty, fun. Auggie has to face, for the first time, the real world, without the protection of his family to shield him from the hurt. He is severely ostracized, at first, but, slowly, the charm and goodness that is August Pullman envelops the school.

Wonder is a tale of triumph. August’s story teaches us that who we are in word and deed will reveal more of our truth than ever the reflection in the mirror. It also shows us that we can evolve and choose the right path, even when we’ve strayed from it for a while. Wonder sheds light on both the worst and best of human nature and reminds us that it is our choices that make us who we are.

Every middle school student should have to read this novel as part of their character education, and to enjoy the story of a boy who learns to face the world while teaching the world that he is more than his face.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Watership Down

Watership Down (Watership Down #1)Watership Down by Richard Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Watership Down was originally published in 1972 by British author, Richard Adams. You must take this publication date into account when you read this book- although it does not excuse its issues.

Watership Down is a long-winded story that, if it had been published today, would probably have been divided up and made into a series. It is the story of a group of rabbits who bravely face the dangers and challenges of the wild world in order to eke out a life for themselves that they can all feel proud of.

It begins with a clairvoyant rabbit who sees an impending disaster for his warren and convinces his brother, a natural leader, that they must flee. That flight takes the two brothers, and a handful of other open-minded rabbits, on an adventure of epic proportions.

This book is a wonderful tale of bravery, faith, friendship, determination, and morality. There is only one major flaw with the novel and that is that it can be, at times, infuriatingly sexist.

The female rabbits in this story are not very well-developed characters. The bucks (male rabbits) view them as a commodity to the warren and a means of perpetuating the lineage. The females are meant to dig warrens, produce litters, and care for the young. The bucks aren't overtly dominating over the females- they just don't really consider them as equals. Though the females are consistently brave enough to challenge fascism and rally against oppression in the story-they get little credit for it.

The irony of this sexism is that Adams wrote this story for his daughters. It was their bedtime story, their car ride story, their quality time with dad story. They are the ones who convinced Adams to write the story down and publish it. So, why does Adams give the bucks such well-developed personalities while the does play such a secondary role in the story? It is true the bucks risk their lives to bring the does into the warren- but it is only so that they may mate, have litters, and have females to dig more runs in the burrow. The female characters are utilitarian in this story and it is a major flaw.

I give Watership Down 4 stars because it is a beautifully written adventure story that can be appreciated by all ages. I cannot give the novel 5 stars because the understated role of the female characters detracts from the beauty and power of the story.