Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Little Book that Could - RJ Palacio's WONDER

I wish I could remember how I got the ARC, I feel like it was from a friend, John Schumacher, but it has been years so I'm not sure. What I do know is that on February 8th of 2012 I closed the cover of a book that would change me. Wonder by RJ Palacio was a breath of fresh air. Auggie Pullman swept in and stole my heart. 

I immediately began to brainstorm, how could I get this book for all of my students? I moved quickly and by the following month, I had a book for every kid in my homeroom. We read it together as the year came to a close. When the year ended, and the day of the yearbook signing came, my students were the ones walking around and getting their copies of Wonder signed. I was in love.

That November NCTE was in Las Vegas. This was not a city for me. I love the conference, seeing friends, talking about teaching, finding books. But the lights, the crowds, it was overwhelming. I clearly remember standing in a hotel room that had a pool table, looking over the city, at the first, and soon to be annual, Nerdy Book Club gathering at NCTE. While I stood there, feeling a bit out of my element, a woman came and stood next to me. We began talking about families, the city, and I introduced myself. When she said her name was Raquel, otherwise known as RJ... tears jumped into my eyes. I wanted to gush, tell her all the book had meant to me in just a few short months, but I held back. Instead, we had a quiet conversation that I will remember for some time. One mom talking to another in a city that, I'm guessing, was overwhelming to us both.

Over the next few years I read Wonder aloud to some classes, and recommended it to more kids than I can count. As school wrapped up this year, my first in middle school, I saw the trailer for the movie. (Trailer HERE) The feeling of reading the book for the first time came flooding back. And, even though we had just wrapped up the school year only hours before, I began messaging my colleagues. Should we do an all school read around Wonder? I posted this blog post asking for ideas. Then I got a text from my former principal in our 4th/5th building (and in my district) - they were doing Wonder as a read aloud. The librarian from PreK-3rd contacted me, she wanted to do a school wide read too and wondered if we should join together. And it mushroomed.

In the last few weeks a team of teachers and librarians from my district have gathered, trying to figure out how to fund this idea. No longer are we looking at one school, or two, or three. We are attempting a community read - all the schools in our district and our entire community. We want to bring our tiny town of over 5,000 people together around the books Wonder and We're All Wonders. We've just begin fundraising for the books to get them into our school. We're also going to be asking local businesses to join us, to have copies in their place of work for community members to stop in and borrow - read & return, or pass on. We're planning a Facebook page for community members to share their thoughts as they read, along with our students. We're going to also have a Twitter hashtag. The publisher is helping us with a discount for the books since we're giving them away. 

I'm overwhelmed.

This was my summer of saying no. Time to be home, be lazy, read, relax, hang out with my boys. But once this idea popped in my head, I couldn't say no. A whole community that knows Auggie? A community where parents, children, everyone knows what it means when someone says choose kind. A community that knows that everyone deserves a standing ovation? 

Sign me up.

So, if you have done anything like this before, shoot any advice my way. We're hoping to be done fundraising by the end of July so we can order the books in August. Books will be distributed towards the end of September so we can read the book in October for National Bullying Prevention month. And then, in November, some grades will be heading over to see the movie.

We're a tiny town in the middle of Central Illinois. I always say we're just a little hamlet, surrounded by cornfields. Draw a line between Chicago and St. Louis, and you'd find us halfway. There are two traffic lights in our town. The only skyscrapers we have are grain elevators and a water tower. We are small, but mighty. I love this town, my hometown. It is filled with good people. And when they get ahold of this book, when they begin these conversations, I cannot wait to see what unfolds. 

It will be magical. I cannot wait to be part of it.