Homeschooling Teen

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Wonder

Do you enjoy a good story with compelling and memorable heroes and heroines? This monthly column features homeschooled characters in literature and film. Wish you had your own copy of the book or movie? Just click on the product image or text links to go to the author’s site or Amazon to buy it!

Wonder is both a novel and a movie about a boy with severe facial deformities. R.J. Palacio wrote the story after an incident where she and her three-year-old son were waiting in line to buy ice cream. Her son noticed a girl with facial birth defects and started to cry. Palacio attempted to remove her son from the situation so as not to upset the girl or her family, but that only made things worse.

The Song

Natalie Merchant’s song “Wonder,” written for a woman who was born with handicaps that seemed too great to overcome, made Palacio realize that she could use her own experience to teach society a valuable lesson. Palacio was inspired by Merchant’s lyrics and she began writing. She named her debut novel Wonder after the song, and used the song’s chorus as the prologue of the first chapter. The original song was also played during the credits for the movie.

Wonder

Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they’re seeing

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of God’s own creation
And as far as they see they can offer
No explanation

Newspapers ask intimate questions
Want confessions
They reach into my head
To steal the glory of my story

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of God’s own creation
And as far as they see they can offer
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way

People see me
I’m a challenge to your balance
I’m over your heads
How I confound you and astound you
To know I must be one of the wonders
Of God’s own creation
And as far as you see you can offer me
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way

The Story

August “Auggie” Pullman is a fifth-grade homeschooler living with his parents in North River Heights in Upper Manhattan, NY. He has a rare genetic disorder, mandibulofacial dysostosis, also known as Treacher Collins syndrome, which affects bone development and other tissues in the head and face. The deformities of his ears, eyes, cheekbones, and chin have caused him to need many surgeries. August has an older sister, Via, who cares for him even though she believes that he is in control of her life.

After being homeschooled by his mother in elementary school, August’s parents decide to enroll him into Beecher Middle School for the start of fifth grade because they want him to experience the larger world around him.

On his first day of school, August tries not to bring attention to himself and he just wants to fit in. Despite his efforts, the other kids still look at him, and Auggie is ostracized by nearly all the student body. A bully named Julian antagonizes him for his appearance, comparing him to Darth Sidious and asking him whether he was in a fire. Auggie’s hopes for the school year are raised slightly when he develops a friendship with classmates Jack and Summer, both of whom defend him from Julian’s taunts.

August was looking forward to Halloween when he could disguise himself, knowing that he at least wouldn’t get tormented while incognito. But even that gets spoiled. Wearing his costume, Auggie overhears Jack talking to Julian about him behind his back. August feels betrayed and fakes illness in order to go home. As August isolates himself from his classmates and parents, Via’s frustration also grows, compounded by years of feeling ignored by her family.

Returning to school, August tries to avoid Jack and confides in Summer about the incident. Summer gives Jack a clue and he realizes that August overheard his comments. The next time Julian calls Auggie a freak, Jack angrily punches him in the face and is suspended from school for a while. Over the Christmas break, Jack attempts to make up with August.

As the school year progresses, the bullying that August faces only becomes worse. Julian even manipulates his friends into turning against Auggie and Jack. Julian’s mother questions August’s attendance at the school, commenting that his appearance may be too much of a burden for the other kids to handle. To top it off, Via doesn’t want August to attend her school play.

Later in the year, the students are invited on a three-day school trip to a nature reserve. At first, August doesn’t want to go. However, upon hearing that Julian will not be there, Auggie decides to join his friends on the trip. Auggie actually has fun until the final night, when he and Jack go to the woods and are attacked by seventh graders – but then they are surprisingly saved by Julian’s friends.

In the end, August is awarded the ‘Henry Ward Beecher Medal’ for being “notable or exemplary in certain areas throughout the school year.” Incredibly proud of her son, August’s mother comments that he is a “wonder.”

The Movie

Based on the 2012 New York Times bestseller by the same name, Wonder is a 2017 motion picture directed by Stephen Chbosky. Like the book, it tells the endearing story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who attends a mainstream school for the first time. The movie has stayed very faithful to the novel. It’s even broken into apparent chapters, each from a different character’s point of view.

The Wonder movie stars Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay. Wilson and Roberts do a great job playing Auggie’s parents. As Auggie, 11-year-old Jacob Tremblay gives a convincing performance despite having his head covered with heavy prosthetics. The film includes some fun quirks that show Auggie’s imagination and coping mechanisms; Star Wars fans will get a kick out of one.

This inspiring and heartwarming movie is pretty wholesome and safe for the whole family. There are Christian elements, including a mother who prays, “Dear God, let them be nice to him” as her son enters school, and woman who says her grandson has “angels looking out for him.” Nevertheless, there are a few light profanities, and a blasphemy uttered by a bully. Also, a teen character finishes her mom’s glass of wine after her mom, who’s going through a difficult divorce, conks off.

Wonder is an uplifting story that has clear positive messages about being kind and appreciating everyone for who they are rather than what they look like. Moreover, its touching theme of empathy is certainly one that society needs right now. We highly recommend watching the movie, reading the novel, or both!

Buy the book and the DVD at Amazon.

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