From Wonder to Social Justice: How One Book Changed a Community

coverOver here at SLC we were touched by R.J. Palacio’s book Wonder about a boy coping with a craniofacial disorder. In her article, Angela Hartman describes how she shared  the message of Wonder with her school and the wider community. If you haven’t read the book, you need to go get it right now and see if it doesn’t inspire you to “choose kind.”

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A number one New York Times bestseller and still winning awards, the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio continues to be a favorite of people of all ages. For those not familiar with Wonder, it is a middle-grade novel about a boy named August Pullman who was born with severe craniofacial anomalies. As a baby and a child, Auggie underwent twenty-seven different surgeries. He is finally able to begin public school for the first time in fifth grade. Chapters are told from the perspective of different characters, illustrating how Auggie is treated because of the way he looks. Readers learn that Auggie just wants to be a normal kid and to be accepted for the person he is. This book transformed our community.

One Book/One Community
Inspired by Palacio’s book and by a session I attended at the annual Texas Library Association Conference in 2015, I began a One Book/One Community project in Hutto Independent School District (HISD) using Wonder. After explaining my ideas to and getting backing from the entire library staff in our district, I wrote a grant proposal. Thanks to a generous grant from the Hutto Education Foundation, we were able to purchase over 800 copies of the book, both in English and in Spanish, to share at our campuses and with our community. The books were purchased through an organization called First Book (https://www.firstbook.org) at a greatly discounted price. Our superintendent, Dr. Douglas Killian, encouraged me from the time I presented my grant proposal idea to him.

The success of the One Book/One Community initiative was due in great part to the library staff on each HISD campus and to the teachers who grabbed on to the idea and participated enthusiastically. The HISD library staff made sure the books got into the hands of teachers and kids?, endlessly promoted the book, and encouraged “choosing kind.” Teachers made time to share the book aloud. Teachers and library staff had discussions with kids about compassion, friendship, and tolerance. Parents, siblings, and grandparents talked about Auggie. It genuinely took a village of supporters.

Wonder was read at all campuses by most grade levels. Teachers were able to choose if and how they wanted to participate. Some classes read it together with a set of books. Some teachers read one copy aloud and some classes listened to the audio recording. We had copies available for checkout in each library and we had “floating” copies that students, staff, and others could read, sign their name in, and pass on to a friend or family member. Wonder provided a connection at campuses between students of all ages and all abilities. We all loved Auggie and loved to talk about the book.
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