Mr. Browne’s September Precept:
“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
On September 25th, I had the honor of hearing R.J. Palacio speak at Renfroe Middle School in Decatur, Georgia. Her visit was presented by my favorite independent bookstore, Little Shop of Stories, who awarded Palacio their “Little Award” because her 2010 book Wonder got kids excited about reading. If you’re not familiar with Wonder, I urge you to pick it up as soon as you can.
Palacio began the evening telling the audience of students, parents, teachers, and book-lovers like me, how the book Wonder came to be. She was living in New York City working as an art director and book jacket designer. (She didn’t design the cover of Wonder, though she does love it). On an outing with her sons in the city, Palacio noticed a young girl with a facial deformity. Her three year old son cried in fear after seeing the girl’s face, and Palacio tried to slip away but ended up causing a bigger scene. Her reaction didn’t go unnoticed by the young girl’s mother, and as Palacio slinked away, she heard the mother whisper, “It’s time to go.”
Palacio played and replayed this scene over and over in her head. She imagined all the ways she could have or should have reacted. She wished that she had set a better example for both of her sons. She felt as though she had let a valuable, teachable moment slip through her fingers. She had let herself down. Wonder is her do-over for that moment. She began writing Auggie’s story that same night. She had dreamed of writing while designing book covers for others, and this story was the story she was meant to tell. However, she never dreamed that it would be as successful, as well received, and as impactful as it has.
Wonder was published in 2010, and she is still receiving fan mail more than four years later. Palacio recently released a new edition which includes “The Julian Chapter,” told from the bully’s point of view. (The Julian Chapter is also available separately as a Kindle Single and audiobook.) She has also released 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. This book is a collection of favorite precepts that Palacio urged fans of Wonder to mail in, and she chose handwritten examples that were funny, bold, thoughtful, and kind.
The crowd of elementary and middle school students who sat on the Renfroe Middle School gym floor, hanging on each word R.J. Palacio said, were a testament to the enduring message of her book. The thoughtfulness of their questions, even from students as young as eight or nine, demonstrate that Palacio’s do-over has reached into the hearts and minds of readers of all ages. This reader can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Palacio, R. J.
Starred Review* Kids’ books about befriending somebody “different” could fill a library. But this debut novel rises to the top through its subtle shifting of focus to those who are “normal,” thereby throwing into doubt presumptions readers may have about any of the characters. Nominally, the story is about 10-year-old August, a homeschooled boy who is about to take the plunge into a private middle school. Even 27 operations later, Auggie’s face has what doctors call “anomolies”; Auggie himself calls it “my tiny, mushed-up face.” He is gentle and smart, but his mere physical presence sends the lives of a dozen people into a tailspin: his sister, his old friends, the new kids he meets, their parents, the school administrators the list goes on and on. Palacio’s bold move is to leave Auggie’s first-person story to follow these increasingly tangential characters. This storytelling strategy is always fraught with peril because of how readers must refresh their interest level with each new section. However, much like Ilene Cooper’s similarly structured Angel in My Pocket (2011), Palacio’s novel feels not only effortless but downright graceful, and by the stand-up-and-cheer conclusion, readers will be doing just that, and feeling as if they are part of this troubled but ultimately warm-hearted community. Grades 5-8
Reviewer: Daniel Kraus (Booklist)
Best Books :
Amazon Editors’ Picks: Best Books of the Year, 2012
Booklist Book Review Stars , Feb. 1, 2012 American Library Association
Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 2012 American Library Association
Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth, 2012 American Library Association
Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens, 2013 The Capitol Choices Committee
Choices, 2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center
Kirkus Best Children’s Books, 2012
Kirkus Book Review Stars, December 15, 2011
New York Times Notable Children’s Books , 2012 The New York Times
Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, 2013 NCTE Children’s Literature Assembly
NYPL Children’s Books 2012, 2012 New York Public Library
Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books, 2012
School Library Journal Best Books, 2012
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, February 2012 Cahners
Washington Post Best Kid’s Books, 2012 The Washington Post
YALSA Top 10 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, 2013 American Library Association
Awards, Honors & Prizes :
Carnegie Medal, 2013 Shortlist United Kingdom
Charlotte Award , 2014 Winner Middle School New York
Christopher Award, 2013 Winner Ages 10-12 United States
Cybil Award, 2012 Winner Middle Grade Fiction United States
E.B. White Read-Aloud Award Winner Middle-reader level United States
Great Stone Face Award, 2012-2013 Winner New Hampshire
Sheffield Children’s Book Award, 2013 Winner Young Adult United Kingdom
UKLA Children’s Book Award, 2013 Shortlist Ages 12-16 United Kingdom
Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, 2013 Category Winner Fiction 5-12 United Kingdom
West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award (WAYRBA), 2013 Winner Younger Readers Australia
ISBNs: 978037586902, 9780375899881, 9780375969027, 0375869026, 037589988X, 0375969020
The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story
Palacio, R. J.
To prime fans of Wonder (2012) for the upcoming 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts (2014), Palacio has dropped this bite-size, but still tear-tugging, Kindle Single. Readers know Julian as the bully who gave the facially deformed Auggie a hard time, but this story shines light on Julian so that his blacks and whites become shades of gray. Julian, who delivers his story in exclamation point-filled prose, is revealed to be an emotional kid prone to nightmares, and Palacio allows that some kids would be flat-out scared by Auggie’s looks. Julian’s shock upon first meeting Auggie is almost inexpressible: “Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude!” Given Julian’s personality, the notes he writes Auggie feel less relentlessly cruel and more the acts of a kid who doesn’t think things through; Julian is shocked to hear himself described as a bully. It’s his parents who guide the rest of his story, taking up arms against the school with Julian as a mere bystander, and this, more than anything, will earn readers’ sympathy. Palacio hits her “choose kind” message hard enough to border on didacticism and the plot has a brick-by-brick linearity, but she remains a wonderfully readable and expressive author. This feels as if it is excised straight from Wonder, making it a perfect addition. Grades 5-8
Reviewer: Daniel Kraus (Booklist)
ISBNs: 9781491524077, 1491524073
365 Days Of Wonder : Mr. Browne’s Precepts
Palacio, R. J.
Thomas Browne, fifth-grade teacher from Palacio’s best-selling Wonder (2012), returns in a companion volume offering a collection of inspiring precepts. Precepts are “words to live by, to elevate the soul, that celebrate the goodness in people,” and Mr. Browne uses them to teach such classical virtues as wisdom, justice, courage and temperance. He believes his students are still kids, “so why should we let you roam wild in the uncharted territory of middle school without just a little bit of guidance?” At the beginning of each month, Mr. Browne writes a new precept on the board, students copy it in their notebooks, discuss it in class, and write paragraphs and essays inspired by the precepts. This volume includes a year’s worth of Mr. Browne’s precepts chosen from 10 years of teaching, as well as some submitted by young people in a contest held by the author. Each precept is credited, and most take up one page; occasional variations in background and typeface keep the visual presentation moderately interesting. Though the cumulative effect of so many inspiring words can be deadening, like being trapped in a Hallmark card shop, the intention is good, and Mr. Browne’s essays at the end of each month add a much-needed adult perspective on the need to guide young people in the ways of kindness and empathy. A big collection of inspiring words that will appeal to the legions of fans awaiting more wonder in their lives. (acknowledgments, list of contributors) 2014, Knopf, 432 pp., $14.99. Category: Anthology. Ages 8 to 12.
ISBNs: 9780553499049XA, 9780553499056, 0553499041,
9780553499056, 0553499041, 055349905X