Auggie and My Students: 4T’s Years of Wonder

A MiddleWeb Blog

My first encounter with Auggie Pullman was four or five years ago. He walked into our lives, right off of the pages of R.J. Palacio’s incredibly moving novel, Wonder. Auggie and I may have met by accident, but I suspect there was a bit of synchronicity involved.

Synchronicity, according to Merriam, another literary friend, is “the coincidental occurrence of events, such as similar thoughts in widely separated persons, that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality.”

This is a concept embedded in the psychology of Carl Jung. Merriam says conventional means “lacking in originality or individuality.” I don’t know much about Dr. Jung, but I’m really glad that I met the character of Auggie Pullman.

Auggie is anything but conventional.

The first thing that usually pops into my head when I hear the word synchronicity is the title of a song by The Police, a band I discovered back in my own “tweens”…when I was walking the same, uncomfortable halls that Auggie would walk, once he came to life in Palacio’s story.

Getting lost in Auggie’s story reconnected me, not only to the music of those awkward years, but to some vivid memories, experiences and observations that had been long forgotten. Auggie’s story reminded me of just how mean people can be to each other…and also to the healing power of friendship, love and forgiveness.

This is something I want my students to experience and hold dear. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a powerful place to begin.

How I first met Auggie…

My own children and I were enjoying the last bit of summer vacation as we walked into the town pool. That was the moment that we caught our first glimpse of him. He was on the cover of dozens and dozens of bright blue books, a sea of blue stretched out in front of the three of us, a blue that had absolutely nothing to do with the water in the swimming pool.

This strange moment of confusion and wonder was quickly interrupted by mother guilt, as I tried to connect the dots.

“Did I miss something on the summer reading list?”

I almost had.

I’d almost missed Wonder…and what a terrible thing that would have been to miss. There were still two weeks of summer break left, so we dashed off to the book store and grabbed two copies (with my 10% educator’s discount!).

As soon as I sat down to read, I knew my son would have no problem finishing his middle school’s required reading assignment. I wasn’t wrong about that. He couldn’t put it down and neither could I.

I wonder if Sting knew the impact that his words would have when he wrote those lyrics? “A connecting principle, linked to the invisible…something inexpressible…Synchronicity.”

Music can evoke great emotion. Music is poetry in motion. Music is poetry with a power all its own.

It is poetry voiced from a different perspective. Palacio chose to tell Auggie’s story in much the same way, through many different first-person perspectives, illustrating how the same story can be seen through many different sets of eyes. Her choice to include a few musical quotes in her poetic prose only added to Wonder’s magic and strength.

Music and poetry have taken on leading roles this year in Room 4T. “If You Knew My Child,” a poem written by Lisa Madren; a powerful film adaptation of Palacio’s story (below), and a musical GoogleSlides presentation created by someone I’ve never actually met, are just some of the connections we’ve used so far this year.

Wonder through the years…

Ever since that first summer, I’ve introduced Auggie to each new class. His story continues to have quite an impact on us. The first year, the kids buzzed so much about the book at home that several of my “4T Moms” formed a book club.

One year, the top choice in our annual class T-shirt design contest was a tribute to Auggie. Our names (and some noteworthy adjectives) were incorporated into the novel’s unforgettable cover art.

After holiday break a few years ago, one student brought in Auggie and Me, Palacio’s companion book, and begged me to read that next. We ditched our next “planned” read aloud and dove back into some other perspectives about life at Beecher Prep. The Julian chapters really brought the message home that everybody has a story, that everybody deserves a little compassion and understanding.

Another gift was 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Precepts, which has been incorporated into our reading rug routine ever since its arrival. This year, the kids are writing so many of their own precepts that we had to make a “Precept Bag” to house them all.

For the New Year, we will choose some of these “precept inspirations” to write out on brightly colored paper and share with the world around us, be it at our own kitchen tables or on the counter at the local diner. Wonder’s publisher provides ten uplifting quotations from the book, “that will inspire you to always #choosekind.” Mr. W. Reads offers a blog post filled with more quotations.

Lights, Camera, Action…

While walking to see Auggie’s story portrayed on the Big Screen, I felt a twinge of guilt. We hadn’t finished the entire book yet. I also felt a little apprehension, wondering if any film version could possibly live up to Palacio’s heart-wrenching and hope-filled prose.

It was a brief twinge. It’s really hard to twinge on a beautiful day, walking to the movies with a hundred and fifty kids, their excitement brewing and their chatter filling the sidewalk.

I took a breath and reminded myself about synchronicity. I could never have imagined the possibility that we would be doing this in the first place, years after that first sea of blue I walked into at the pool…that first time I’d met Major Tom.

This year, 4T will have a different experience with Wonder. The kids already know how the story ends. They don’t seem to mind. If anything, they are paying even closer attention to the details of the novel as we read. They are comparing the cinematic version with the version we explore on the read-aloud rug each day. They are scribbling their reactions down in their Readers’ Notebooks with gusto.

We aren’t choosing sides. We aren’t deciding which version is better. We are appreciating the Wonder of both.

Choosing kind means taking the time to take a closer look.

R.J. Palacio had a “Jack Will” moment herself, when she rushed away from someone who was different, so many years ago. This experience was her initial inspiration for writing Auggie’s story. And her cameo in the film, that moment when she stood up, was not only a tribute to Auggie’s incredible strength, but also to the kind of healing that is possible when we do take that second look.

Palacio shows us that it’s okay to have that initial reaction, that moment of shock, that small, reflexive gasp. But after that initial moment is over, we can choose to turn back for a closer look at the cover of each book we meet along the way.

Chances are, we’ll find a little Wonder inside. In 4T, we are learning that there is a lot of wonder in each of our own, unique perspectives.

Click to enlarge.

WONDER filled links for the classroom

⇒ “Beautiful” by Christina Aquilera: These lyrics are an amazing way to open up discussions about what is, in fact, beautiful about each of us.

⇒ After we talked about the difference between a person’s physical traits and the person inside, students wrote responses. Here’s one:

Click to enlarge.

⇒ Natalie Merchant’s Official webpage and other “Wonder” news. Merchant wrote 1995’s song “Wonder,” which she relates to the novel in the video below. In a PBS interview she describes her “discovery” of poetry.

⇒ On ABC’s 20/20 Elizabeth Vargas interviewed Nathaniel Newman, a real-life Wonderboy, and introduced viewers to Treacher Collins Syndrome. We watched this the day before our walk to meet Auggie on the Big Screen. The kids were captivated by Nathaniel’s story, which gave us even greater insight into our protagonist.

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and visit her personal blog (launched in 2021) Behind the Doors of the Teacher's Room for some adult conversation.

1 Response

  1. Mary Langer Thompson says:

    Thank you, Mary. I saw the movie last week, and as a retired educator, at least one kid on my holiday list will be getting this book!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.