Watching Wonder

I heard from a parent at a conference last week that her daughter had seen Wonder three times already.  “I think she really feels like she wants to be Summer, the girl who does the right thing,” said the mom.

I was happy to hear that kids had connected with this story, and happy in this case that that was how some were making the connection.   I’ve noticed in my class, that several of the kids have gone out of their way to show understanding and forgiveness for classmates who they sense have need of some slack or support.  When I read the book, not surprisingly, I wanted to be like the teacher, Mr. Brown, showing patience, understanding, and an ample repertoire of profound precepts to guide the spirits of my students.  The story has plenty of characters we want to emulate and a few who we want to avoid.

What makes the story and the movie work for me, though, are the characters who are real.  I don’t see myself in Mr. Brown or Mr. Tushman, who stand more as paragons.  In reality, I see myself in Jack Will and Via and her friend Miranda.  Jack Will, we know, has a good heart.  He wants to be a good friend.  He has an open mind.  He’s capable of seeing beneath Augie’s disfigured face.  For a while, he’s brave, and he’s a faithful friend.

And then he’s not.

To me, while Summer, who doesn’t care what others think, is an ideal for kids, she’s also a less realistic paragon of friendship.  The reality is that most of us are basically good people who occasionally falter.  Sometimes, we falter with someone we barely know.  Other times we hurt someone we care about.  If we’re lucky, we get a second chance, a chance to repair a friendship and redeem ourselves.  One quality I appreciate in Jack Will is that when he gets that opportunity, he seizes it.

When I was little, I didn’t, and I still think about it:


Once, my friend,

We roamed my backyard decked in combat green.

We waved imaginary guns,

Launched grenades, leaped from helicopters and

Stalked the enemy.

We played army,

We were loyal allies,

Saving the world,

Dougie and me.

But then first grade began.

“Doug’s weird,” the other kids said.

“He looks like a gorilla.”

“He’s so dumb.”

I was a different kind of dumb,

Saying nothing.

You said, “Hey, wanna play war?”

“Naw, I don’t play that stuff anymore.”

I left you on that battleground

And joined the other side.

One day after recess

You locked yourself in Mrs. Garwood’s closet.

Everyone laughed at your tantrum.

I wasn’t brave enough to defend you.

Dougie, I wonder if  you made it out

Happy and free.

My friend, you deserved better

From me.

8 thoughts on “Watching Wonder

  1. I just got it out of the library today, after being on hold for quite a while.

    Your thoughtful commentary has me thinking about the E.M. Forster quote
    “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”

    Our friends always deserve better from us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My class has read Wonder together, and it’s been a good touchstone for talking with kids about how they treat each other. Your poem has tugged on my heartstrings, especially that line at the end: “Dougie, I wonder if you made it out/Happy and free.” I’ll be thinking of his, and hoping.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This poem is brave and honest. I think we all have moments like this, moments of regret. These are important stories to tell. Like you said, we all falter. This is one I’ll be thinking about for a while.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I thought of Each Kindness, too. I have similar feelings about Wonder – though I’ve only read the book, not seen the movie. I just finished reading it out loud to my own children, and we talked a lot about how there are really good people in the book who make bad choices – and then they have to find ways to fix that. To me, that’s the real point of the book: it’s not “be kind to children who look different” – though that is certainly nice enough; it’s “even kind people have to grapple with tough feelings; when you make a mistake, acknowledge it and try to fix it.” We, all of us, have experienced what your poem so poignantly addresses. We have regrets. May we make amends and, if we can’t, may we grow from our mistakes. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This reminds me of a picture book I read yesterday, Be Kind. Not unreal, a real situation with kids who struggle for what the kind response might be, what does kindness really mean? Sometimes we have to have situations where we make the easier choice to figure out why we really want to make the hard one. No one does it all the time. Brave words, my friends. That’s what elevates your teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your writing is honest. I appreciate that. We need that. We need to share this kind of thinking with our kids. Who doesn’t want to be Summer? But you are right, she is not realistic. I heard R.J. Palacio, author of Wonder, speak one evening. One of the children in the audience asked if she was Summer. She replied, “If only I could be Summer!” Also, did you write that poem? It is good. Really good!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I did write it. I feel like it’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting later and later with my slicing. The last one is probably going to be submitted at 11:59 on the 31st.


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