Book Review: Wonder by R J Palacio

11387515This is a Young Adult/Children’s novel with a message which is just as valid for adults as it is for children and teenagers.

The story isĀ about August, a ten year old boy with a facial abnormality, and his journey into mainstream school. It is a book about bullying, acceptance, empathy and friendship. It is a book that emphasises the understanding of people as people and not just faces. It is a book that confronts the way in which people react to those who are different. It confronts the ignorance, the fear and the stupidity of selfish, self righteous fools. One example of this confrontation is with Julian and his parents, who epitomise this ignorance, and are the focus of all of my bad thoughts whilst reading this book.

It is well written, from the perspectives of different characters within the novel, each getting to express their opinions and allowing us an insight into their minds. I understand that there are some critics who may feel like having all of these voices throws the novel, or doesn’t allow us to get deep enough into the characters’ feelings. I, however, think that this change of narrator is essential with the subject of the book. The fact that it is all about how we deal with people who are different from us makes it necessary to understand not only the feelings of August, as being different, but also the feelings of those around him, with how the deal with all his differentness. I understand that the most important perspective is indeed August’s. However, in order to learn about empathy, children (who I am sure that this book is aimed at) need to understand how others react, and what the correct way is to react to those who are different from themselves.

Palacio manages to capture the voices of these characters well, so that it is entirely believable that I am reading the words of children. I am hoping that this, along with the short, easy to read chapters, will allow me to read this book with my students. In fact, I can imagine this book becoming part of the English syllabus in the near future. I certainly think it would be a good lesson for students today to learn a little about empathy.

4.5/5

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Is reading important for writing?

I have recently started a creative writing club where I work for a group of children aged between 11 and 15 and I had a huge amount of interest in it, which I was really please with, and quite frankly surprised by – mostly because of the amount of students willing to stay behind after school for the club.

So, from the outset, it was clear to me that children are generally interested in writing and are naturally creative creatures. However, as soon as I started this club I hit a great, massive, brick wall. For the first creative writing task, I thought it might be fun to run a project. The outline of this project was to work in groups, and take a book that they had read (at least 1 of them needed to have read it) and turn it into a play. The problem arose when practically none of the students could think of a book they had read.

Bearing in mind that these are children who have elected to join a creative writing club, yet did not seem able to recall any books. When I asked them about this, the majority of them informed me that they do not read outside of the classroom (this, despite the fact that the school has a strict policy that every student must take a book out of the library every fortnight). It got me thinking about the importance of reading.

I decided to change the topic to short story writing instead. So, after the first couple of sessions, when they had finished their short stories, I collected them up and read through them. What I found was not at all surprising. Most of the stories were creative and were based on good ideas (so clearly not reading did not effect their creativity much). However, for the couple of children who did read for pleasure, it was clear that reading effected their writing. The range of vocabulary they used was much wider and more mature, their stories were more captivating and the format was better.

It was clear then, to me, that reading is an important tool for structured and creative writing. I honestly think that there is not enough done to promote reading and I am going back to the drawing board to try and solve this – at least for my students! If you have any ideas on promoting reading to teenagers, please let me know.

Film: Rain Man

rain-manLast night I rewatched Rain Man for the first time in about 7 or 8 years. There are obviously many reasons why Rain Man is a cinematic classic – it has a great story line and amazing acting by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.

The reason I am writing the review of Rain Man is due mainly to the fact that my reaction to the film has changed, or more accurately, developed. When I first watched this film, I was watching it mainly because it was a film classic and I felt that I ought to. I was a teenager and still in secondary school, and the only knowledge of autism that I had at the time was actually from the film itself. Even then, though, I realised that Dustin Hoffman’s acting was astounding and I could appreciate the effort that went into making the film.

However, for the past 5-6 years I have spent the majority of my time working with children with Special Needs, and in particular with children on the Autistic Spectrum. This has meant that my knowledge on the complex issue of autism has developed immensely since the first time I watched Rain Man. So, as you can imagine, watching it last night, I was able to reflect on the knowledge I now have – and I can say, without doubt, that Dustin Hoffman’s acting, rather than just being astounding, is the best acting that I have ever seen. The way he captures the unique idiosyncrasies of a person with autism is amazing. There was clearly a lot of research that went into preparing for the role, and that’s something that I can really appreciate – there was clearly care taken over the way that autism was portrayed in the film.

Apart from that, I also think the way in which Tom Cruise’s character develops through the film is really impressive. It highlights the ignorance surrounding autism in the late 80’s, and how understanding can mean everything.

This is definitely a must watch classic!

5/5

Also as a side note, I recently watched the BBC Horizon documentary on Living with Autism which was a good clinical insight into the subject.

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