I did it again. My voice cracked, tears welled up and I had to take deep breaths to keep reading. It has happened before when I have read the Bronze Bow or Where the Red Fern Grows to my kids and it happened this Sunday afternoon when I finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio to willing Will.
Will has always been very selective in what I can and cannot read to him. Unlike his older siblings, I have started and then, at his request, stopped reading many a book with him. A few weeks ago a friend of mine Betsy Siddoway Vandenberghe (we first met on the same study abroad in Jerusalem years ago) recommended Wonder as a great read-out-loud for kids. Here is what she wrote in a Facebook post:
"This book is a family MUST. Always appreciate the posts about bullying and teaching kids to be kind at school, but if you want your kids’ hearts, and your own, to grow 10 sizes—well, that is a job fiction, deftly and honestly and artistically rendered, does best, without preaching, but through making your soul care so deeply about a character and his family that the writer (R.J. Palacio, a first-time author whose career involved book jacket designing and raising kids) receives letters from all over the world, including full-grown men who cried out loud reading her book. Have to admit to choking up and not being able to continue multiple times, myself. And for those who prefer their religious motifs understated and subtle (as opposed to heavy handed and turning off anyone not religiously inclined), the references to CS Lewis, Tolkien, and 1 John 5:4 are masterfully executed."
It sounded wonderful to me so I checked it out of the BYU library in hopes that Will would let me read it to him. Happily he agreed. What started out as a thirty minute reading session the first night morphed into several hour-plus sessions during the past week (in which I willingly (not something I readily do) chose to skip the 10:00 news) with Will begging for me to read some more. What is so weird about this all is that it is not Harry Potter or Fablehaven or some other typical read for kids. It is about a boy with a facial deformity trying to make his way through fifth grade. Along the way we learn of nice and not-so-nice reactions from people around him.
Here is one quote in the book that summarizes why I liked it so much and why I choked up several times while reading it: "Shall we make a new rule of life....always try to be a little kinder than necessary." (p. 299, from J.M. Barrie's, The Little White Bird). Such good advice. Read this book. Read it to your kids.
Also be sure to read the follow-up The Julian Chapter--it's always good to get the other side of the story. Very touching and also full of humanity.