The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Choose Kind

For over a year, I have been following as teacher friends and colleagues online have raved about a new book by first-time author R. J. Palacio. The book is called Wonder. It is written in the voices of several different children, including the main character, August “Auggie” Pullman.

August is a regular ten-year-old boy by most accounts: he rides his bike, he likes ice cream, he plays video games, he loves Star Wars. There’s just one thing that sets him apart from everyone else: he was born with a severe facial deformity. As a result of the dozens of surgeries he had to undergo, he was homeschooled until fifth grade. Then his parents decided it was time to send him to school.

Wonder tells the story of August’s first year in school: his friendships, his challenges, his worries, his hopes. And it tells the oh-so-important message that kindness is the most important virtue.

I’ve been eager to get my hands on a copy of this book, and I finally got my wish about a month ago. Our school librarian had acquired a copy and she let me be the first to check it out. After reading it on my own, I knew that I would have to read it to my class, as well. We started last week and have been reading each day. Today we got to the part in the story where Auggie’s English teacher introduced “Mr. Browne’s Precepts” to his fifth graders. The first precept is this: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

I wrote this on the board and repeated it several times, asking the students to think about it. Mr. Browne has his students discuss the precept and then write a brief essay about what it means. I am going to have my class do the same thing. I wish I had been able to get this book at the start of the year so that we could have started off with the challenge to “choose kind“.

Most of my students seem to have already grasped the importance of this message. One of them came to me this afternoon and said, “Mr. Valencic, I know why you are reading us this book. It is because a lot of kids in our class say mean things about each other, especially about how they look.” I suppose that is part of the reason. The bigger part, though, is that I want my students to realise that just because something is true, that doesn’t always mean that it needs to be said. When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

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