Some time ago I had the opportunity to read an early copy of R.J. Palacio’s debut novel, Wonder. I’d heard about it through friends and eagerly anticipated reading it. The book took my breath away.
The next spring brought opportunities to meet the author, talk about the book with colleagues, and read it to my class. The shared experience of Wonder with my fifth graders was amazing. One of the relatives of a student had donated hardcover copies of the book to all of my students. When we finished the school year the kids used them as yearbooks, having other students sign their copy. I found the following quote written by many students in their classmates' books:
When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.
I knew then that the book had touched the students. I hadn’t realized the magnitude of the impact until one of the last days of school. I had gone home for lunch and found a package from the author. Inside was a note to me, and a t-shirt with the cover of the book on it. I immediately pulled the shirt on, ate my lunch, and returned to school. I walked into the cafeteria to pick up my class at lunch. Imagine 130 students sitting, waiting for their teacher. My homeroom accounted for 26 kids. About 52 other students were in my reading class where I had talked about Wonder throughout the year. The remaining students came to my room to check out books when they could and knew me well. Children spun in their seats and began cheering. I heard phrases like, “Yeah, Auggie!” and “Great shirt, Mrs. S!” Tears sprang into my eyes as their shouts rang out. All of these kids were cheering a book! I knew I would use this book somehow the next school year.
When a School Chooses Kindness
As summer began I heard about the movement Random House and R.J. Palacio had begun called CHOOSE KIND. They organized a Tumblr account (http://choosekind.tumblr.com/) where you can obtain some resources, sign a pledge to choose kindness, share your story, and read posts from others.
When recommending Wonder to my mom this summer, I told her that my mission was for everyone in our town to read this book. I said to her, I think our world would be better if every student read this book and discussed it. She asked me what I was going to do about that, and the seed was planted.
With the start of the school year just around the corner, I scheduled a lunch with my school’s librarian. We met about selecting books for the year, talked about reading programs, and planned library units. I asked her if she’d be willing to help me coordinate a one book/one school program for the year, and she agreed.
With the idea of sharing one book with the entire school, we began running through questions and discussing ideas. What was the best way for all students in our school to be exposed to Wonder? Our plan right now consists of having the book shared in reading classes as a read aloud, and to use the read alouds as a starting point for class discussions. We’re going to have displays around the school where children can record ways they have been kind, or times they witnessed others being kind. One possibility is a marble jar in the office where we place the marbles inside to indicate kind acts. I know my class and a few others are going to share "precepts" (just like Mr. Browne from the book) in our journals during writing workshop.
Another possible tie-in is our Family Reading Night this fall. Several books on our state award list can be tied into the idea of choosing to be kind. There are books on the list that deal with devastating poverty, loss of family members, and life with autism or cerebral palsy. We are going to have book groups during lunch for kids to read these books, discuss them, and find the threads that connect them all. Our Family Reading Night will include speakers from the community that have a connection to the books. We’re also considering an art project that would tie to the Ben’s Bells movement in Tucson, Arizona. The message of that group is that random acts of kindness can make an impact larger than you can imagine.
Knowing my school and the wonderful teachers there as I do, I know that we will lay the groundwork for this one book/one school initiative but they will extend it even further than I can imagine. Each classroom will find its own ways to “choose kind.” I think that the benefits we will see will be huge, but the biggest may be that all the people in our building will have a common language and shared text. All teachers will have a common text to refer back to with the students over the course of the year. Community building experiences around a singular text will strengthen our school community and start our year out on a positive note.