Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder“If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.  I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and doing that look-away thing.  Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that one one else sees me that way.”

August Pullman has been homeschooled all his life, safe from the stares and questions of others.  See, he was born with a craniofacial anomaly-his face doesn’t look like most other faces.  He and his family are used to it, but most other people aren’t.  Auggie knows they don’t mean to be rude, or hurt his feelings, but it happens anyway.

He’s afraid it might get a lot worse, too:  August Pullman is about to start middle school.  MIDDLE SCHOOL!  It’s notorious for being horrible for even the most normal of kids. Nevertheless, Auggie bravely goes out into the world-and what he finds will surprise him.  The book is told from many different perspectives: Auggie’s, his sister, his friends, even his bully, and it reminds us that there is always more than one side to a story.  This book humanizes everyone, even those who bully.  It’s the most realistic, most compassionate work on the subject that I’ve ever encountered.

Friends, this book will make you cry.  It will make you think about how we relate to others who are different from us (and, after all, isn’t everyone?).  It will fill your heart with joy.  It’s a great one for parents to read with kids-as a read-aloud, it could work for ones as young as fourth grade, all the way up to grown-ups. It’s a sensitive portrayal of differences, bullying, and the underworld of middle school.  Reading this book will make you a better human, I promise.  Read it with someone dear to you, friends.

Happy reading!

If you liked this one, you’ll love Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco, and you’ll definitely need to check out Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going.

theoneandonlyivan“I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.

It’s not as easy as it looks.”

Ivan lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, with his companions: Bob, the mongrel dog who likes to sleep on Ivan’s stomach at night; and Stella, the wise, gentle elephant.  It’s not such a bad life for Ivan; he makes paintings (for sale in the gift shop) and thinks very little about his old home in the jungle.  It’s too sad, you see.  It’s best not to remember.

Until Ruby comes along.

Ruby is still a baby, a tiny elephant taken from her family in the wild. She’s not too sure what’s going on at the mall yet, and she’s missing her family terribly.  Something about having Ruby around wakes Ivan up a little, actually: he starts to feel differently about his home at the Big Top Mall.  Ruby brings big changes to Ivan’s life;  she makes him want to be brave again.  Ruby helps Ivan remember what family is.

I’ll go ahead and say it: sometimes books that win the Big Awards (the Newbery, or the Printz, for example) are more about what we think kids should read than what they will like reading.  They may be undeniably well-written and creative, and about important topics, but…sometimes they’re not so fun.  This book, though,  is one that everyone will want to read.  I hate gorillas.  Seriously.  I’ve had a phobia of them since childhood.  I see all primate species as germy, suspicious, and liable to bring us all plague.  For me to voluntarily pick up a story told by a gorilla is an occurrence similar to a lunar eclipse, actually.  But Ivan had me crying during rush hour on the subway, and falling off curbs trying to read and walk at the same time.

Ivan speaks in short, contemplative sentences.  His observations are both poignant and funny, while his love for Ruby is heartbreaking in its tenderness.  The book is short and uncluttered with excessive detail or exposition; it’s merely Ivan’s observations, and it’s absolutely perfect.  I moved it right away to the All-Time Awesomest List and I hope I’ll be able to share it with others and read it aloud without crying, because it’s that good. It’s made for reading out loud, that’s for sure: children as young as first grade or so can understand the prose, while even adults will be captivated with this redemptive story.  I promise, you’ll love it.  Even if you hate both reading AND gorillas, you’ll love it, and here’s why: Ivan’s more human than even humans are, and this book is short, simple, and so beautiful.  You can’t help but love it.

Oh, and bonus fun fact: Katherine Applegate is also the author of the Animorphs series.  Remember? The series about alien slugs crawling into people’s brains and giving them the power to transform into amazing animals! So she’s clearly multi-talented!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Applegate, Katherine.  The One and Only Ivan. HarperCollins: New York, 2012. 305 pp.

If you liked this book, I think you’ll like these, too:

The Magician’s Elephant

Wonder

 The Tale of Despereaux

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

You never know, I tell myself.  One day there might be a few select people who’ll say, ‘Yes, Dylan was on the brink of stardom when he was nineteen.  Dali was well on his way to being a genius, and Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for being the most important woman in history.  And at nineteen, Ed Kennedy found that first card in the mail.”

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver, sharing a shack with his ancient, reeking dog, The Doorman.  His life isn’t going much of anywhere at the moment:  he drives around business men and tries not to drive around people who look like they might throw up in his cab, suffers from unrequited love for his best friend, and meets his similarly unmotivated buddies to play cards every week. He’s pretty pitiful, by his own admission.  He doesn’t really do much with his life: that is, until the messages start coming to him.

After accidentally stumbling into a bank robbery, Ed starts receiving playing cards.  They’re messages, and following the clues in them leads him to people who need help: a lonely old woman.  A wife whose husband hurts her at night.  A priest who lives among those who need him most.  It’s up to Ed to figure out what he needs to do to reach out and solve their problems.  He’s no hero, but someone out there has chosen him to be the messenger.

Friends, this is my new favorite book.  I love it even more than The Book of Lost Thingsand here’s why: Ed is a self-professed loser, a nobody.  The best part of his day is sharing coffee with his enormous dog, or daydreaming about his best friend, who is dating someone else, and probably never going to fall for him.  His mother hates him because he reminds her of his dad.  He’s got no money, has terrible taste in jackets,  he’s bad in bed, and his life really isn’t going anywhere.  But do you know what is the best about Ed?  He is a kind, sincere guy.  He could have ignored the messages, or decided the people out there weren’t worth helping (especially after he gets beaten to a pulp by the brothers he was trying to help), but instead, he doesn’t.  So he goes quietly about, doing things like reading Wuthering Heights to an old lady and using all his money to throw a block party for a priest, all with no clue who is behind the mysterious messages.

I Am the Messenger champions the humble and honest among us, and without preaching, reminds us of the importance of reaching out to each other, even if our gestures may be small. Now, that may sound saccharine, but with Ed’s voice, it’s hilarious, and you won’t feel talked-down-to in the least. This is book whose message is that we are all in this together, so it’s best if we were gentle with one another.  And that, friends, is why it is my new favorite.

Happy Reading!

Zusak, Markus. I Am the Messenger. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 357 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

Author’s website.

If you liked this book, you should check out my other SUPER FAVORITE, Sorta Like a Rock Star.  It’s lighter than I Am the Messenger, but has the same belief in sincerity and hope, and I bet you’ll like it, too.  Other books with the same tone are Gone, Gone, Gone   and Everybody Sees the Ants.  I’d love to hear what you think!