WONDER

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Okay so I was dubious about an adaptation of R. J. Palacio’s New York Times bestseller, WONDER. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson? Could have gone either way. But Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Beauty and The Beast) and co-writers Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne have brought this story to the screen in a way that (for the most part) avoids sentimentality. Okay so the obligatory scene takes place at the end of year school assembly (gah) and there’s that teary high school play and the fight by the lockers – but the strong performances and Chbosky’s compassion and restraint combine to make this film genuinely moving. And let’s not forget the target audience. This is tween family drama – our ten and twelve-year-old kids loved it.

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Wonder is the inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman (played by Jacob Tremblay). Born with a genetic abnormality, August (Auggie) has endured endless surgeries and hospitalisation since birth. But he’s an ‘everykid’ in so many other ways; He loves astronomy, Minecraft, Starwars – and burping. He wants to be a normal kid and live a normal life. And that’s where the beauty and power of this story lies – it examines why that’s so hard. And not just for Auggie.

Having home-schooled Auggie all his life, his loving and committed Mum (Roberts) gently pushes him to start fifth grade at local school. It’s a giant step. Auggie and his family are only too aware of his vulnerability to ridicule and bullying at this decision. And from the moment he removes his space helmet at the school gates and walks in, it begins. As his classmates struggle to find compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s courage and determination is inspiring.

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The narrative is simple and strong but not without its contrivances – Auggie’s hipster home room teacher (who chucked in a big Wall Street career to pursue his passion to teach) who challenges and inspires his mid graders by exploring precepts. One of which is “if you have to choose between right and kind, choose kind.”  There’s the mean rich kid, the shy loner girl. But again, this is a kid’s film and it sets about presenting strong and simple truths. These gentle themes – kindness, acceptance, friendship and community of course necessarily venture into parallel territories of bullying, judgment and isolation.

Check out the Choose Kind Movement in all it’s guises (#choosekind, tumblr, twitter, facebook) to see what the R.J Palacio and the clever folk at Penguin Randomhouse have been doing with the phenomenon that is Wonder.  Kids, classrooms, entire school communities have joined the Choose Kind movement. A marble in a jar, a moment of choice between doing what is right and what is kind. Teaching kids they have the power to change lives? Transforming the way we see? That’s wonderful.

Submit a pledge to be kinder HERE

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“See You When I See You” by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson – Reviewed by Hana (9)

 

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I understood.  Really.  Who could resist that cover?  My review copy of “See You When I See You” by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Ericsson. Gone.

My sleuthing didn’t take long.  Cue defiant nine-year-old.

“I just need it back for a while,” I say.  “You can have it after that.”

“Why do you need it?” comes her careful, tinged-with-defiance reply.

“Because I’m going to read it and tell people about it on my blog.”

I’ll tell them about it.”

“O-kay… what would you say?”

“That I love it.  And Dani is me and Ella is Tessie.  Because I’ve got white hair and Tessie’s got black hair and we are best friends and the adults can’t stop us from being best friends even though she lives far, far away.  But Dad’s not Italian like Dani’s Dad and he doesn’t say “amore” when he kisses me goodnight.  And you’re not dead like Dani’s Mum.”

Her eyes flick up at me, contemplating my alive-ness.

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“In the books Dani gets sad because Ella is so far away and there are mean boys in her class and she doesn’t like her Dad’s new girlfriend because she’s still sad about her Mum.”

Her shoulders rise and sag with a giant exhalation.

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“This time they go to the zoo and she gets lost and Ella was there with her school too and they went on an adventure and they buried their friendship necklaces in a hole in the ground.  Then they got in trouble and Ella’s teacher was mean and carried her off like a sack of something.”

She pauses, aggrieved.

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“And Dani has guinea pigs called Snow and Flake and they live in her room!  Like my fish Lemon and Honey but they’re not guinea pigs.  Snow and Flake are really super-clever guinea pigs.  You can tell because their eyes glitter.”

She goggles her eyes rodent-style and laughs.

 

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“Dani is funny Mum.  And she knows about the silver lining.  You know – in the clouds?”

A grand, skywards arc of hand, a breathy sigh… then she (and the book) are gone.

“See You When I See You” is a new story in the acclaimed chapter book series written by Rose Lagercrantz and illustrated by Eva Ericsson, due out in July.   A stand-alone read, “See You When I See You” follows “My Happy Life”, “My Heart is Laughing”, “When I am Happiest” and “Life According to Dani.” 

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Lagercrantz and Ericsson (Sweden) are long-time friends and collaborators and it shows in this beautiful dance of words and pictures.  The stories are rooted firmly in the domestic world – main character Dani navigates the subterranean complexities of home and family life, school and friendship.  The adults in Dani’s life are fallible and she grapples authentically with a good measure of grief and disappointment. 

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Neither trite nor heavy-handed, the serious business of growing up is balanced by a sense of wonder and flourishes of twinkling humour.  This series will most likely appeal to 5-7 year-olds as a read-together or an independent read for 7-9.  We’ve eagerly anticipated and loved every book. Classics.

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With thanks to Gecko Press for the lost and found review copy.