Kinder than Necessary

Two things conspired to move the well-reviewed Wonder by R. J. Palacio to the top of my reading stack. First came a recommendation from a young friend who had read it with her son. She said they found multiple topics of good conversation as they examined the feelings of the characters in the book. Knowing my bookworm tendencies, she offered to lend me her copy.

The second urge came when our de Grummond Book Group chose it as our June selection. [If you happen to be in the neighborhood, we meet the third Thursday of each month at 11:30 AM in the de Grummond exhibit room in Cook Library on the University of Southern Mississippi campus. The only qualification for membership is a love of children’s and young adult literature.]

Since this is a “turn my pages and don’t put the book down until the end” kind of book, I was fortunate to start it on the first leg of a trip from Gulfport to Phoenix. It had me in its grip to the point that I read through lunch at the Atlanta airport and finished shortly after we airlifted for the final leg to Phoenix. In a bit of serendipity, my seatmate was a ten year old boy, and I was able to share after he promised to give the book back before we landed. He was soon chin-in-hand, elbows-on-knees, book-in-front engrossed.

The protagonist, August Pullman sets up the premise on the first page, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Take a face like that into fifth grade after being homeschooled, and no one has to tell you what the problems will be. The surprise comes in the humor laced through the book that had the potential of being a downer. Various viewpoints ring true as Palacio switches among the characters to tell the story.

English teacher, Mr. Browne, provides monthly precepts to guide the students through the year leading them to find or create their own as they leave him for the summer. The first sets the tone for the book. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

Without didacticism, the author draws the reader into empathy for each individual who inhabits the story. A thoughtful reader will find it hard to leave the book behind without considering Mr. Tushman’s quote from J. M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird during his graduation address. “Shall we make a new rule of life . . . always to be a little kinder than is necessary?”

I think the answer is, “Yes!”