In the last month or so, Kate DiCamillo’s RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE has circulated through four readers spanning three generations in our family. My thirteen-year-old first pressed it into my hand with wide eyes. “Momma, you’ll love this.” She was right. I devoured it – reading deep into the night; ignoring my inner nag tut-tutting about sleep. My Mother has furtively chipped away each visit – stealing it up from my bedside. And Miss Ten was entranced by Jenna Lamia’s reading of the story during our frequent and long drives West.
No dystopia, wizardry or superheroes here. Ramie Clarke is a suburban girl with a problem and a plan. There are baton lessons, white boots and shitty cars. Strangers, crazies, lost pets. Beneath lies a darker architecture – abandonment, poverty and violence. But with restraint and careful cadence DiCamillo ultimately tells a simple and joyful story about friendship. She perfectly inhabits Raymie and a child’s view of a complex world. This story is clearly personal. Brilliant.
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.
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.
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.