Tipping Point of Wonder

Alexander always begins a request or question with this:

“I was just wondering. . .”

Another of his teachers picked up on this and we spent part of a morning planning session talking about Alexander’s approach. My colleague thought that this was probably the mark of an inquisitive young man. He thought that this sense of “wonderment,” even if a habit of speech was a pathway to deeper understanding. I thought it sounded like a “habit of mind.”

The Habits of Mind group define these as “those dispositions that are skillfully and mindfully employed, by characteristically successful people, when confronted with problems, the solutions to which are not immediately apparent.”

With Alexander and a working definition of habits of mind, I’d like to combine two books that the incoming Room 407 Readers are invited to read for their #summerreading.  Incoming AP English Language and Composition students are reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point while the incoming English 11 students are reading R. J. Palacio’s Wonder.

Past NCTE president, Carol Jago, recently cited AP instructors who select Gladwell’s work. She predicts that his work might even appear soon on AP Exams. I think, that with the individuals and elements presented in his seminal title from 2000: The Law of the Few: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesman along with The Stickiness Factor and The Power of Context,  Gladwell would delight in the knowing that his book has “tipped.”

With the excited response of Nerdy Book Club members, a Twitter hashtag, #thewonderofwonder, has taken off like the epidemics Gladwell explores. Led by book Connectors and book Mavens like John Schumacher, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, and a host of “tweeps” using and retweeting the hashtag, Random House Children’s Books has gone back to take another look at Wonder. We now have an invitation to CHOOSE KIND, a website inspired by #thewonderofwonder.

Two words.

So Simple.

Irresistible really.

Most sticky.

Our culture is confronted with a problem. The issue of bullying continues to permeate conversations regarding school improvement and instructional practice. Solutions to this problem seem simple, yet the complexity of interpersonal communications and social interactions invite multiple responses which lead to singular solutions not being immediately apparent.

But a solution may exist within the realm of how we choose see one another, how we choose to relate to one another, and—ultimately—how we choose to treat one another.


August “Auggie” Pullman shows us how to do this. I got to read Wonder back in September of 2011. August’s  face—floating on a sea of light blue. A singular eye looking right back and me.

August Pullman saw right through me. I read through the multiple perspectives found within the book. I saw the various ways we confront the problem of interpersonal relations. I saw an immediate solution.

It’s the Law of the Few: a few teachers, a few librarians, a few nerds, a few book people.

A few Mavens. A few Connectors. The Power of Context.

This week, an incoming Room 407 Reader was reading Wonder. The reader posted at RAW INK Online: “I am over half way through Wonder. . .I Love This Book :)” I asked what it was about the book that was eliciting this response. Here is Amber’s response:

“ I work with The Special Olympics, so I see first-hand how people like Auggie feel about these things and how they are affected by these things. It makes it a little harder to not be critical of Julian and his crew but I understand their situation. The Halloween scene also made me very angry and it still does, but you have to give a little credit to Jack for stepping up and admitting to it. I also give credit to Summer for being so nice throughout this book and I see Via’s point of view and understand her little ‘lost bird” episode. This book really relates to things I actually deal with in my everyday life. . .I actually never want to finish it.”

I see a response mindfully composed. I see connection. I see the power of context. I see the beginnings of the power of the few. I also see a young reader who has already adopted a CHOOSE KIND approach to her extra-curricular activities.

The “tipping point of wonder.” It happens when a book affects a few readers and they take it that book to new heights. Not because of—or due to—their  influence, but because of their love of and response to a book that Gladwell would describe as “contagious.” An updated version of The Tipping Point would be compelled to explore how a little guy like August could find his way through his first year of middle school to an online group of readers who would read, adopt, share out, and promote his story. Gladwell would have to take note of the #wonderofwonder movement that has permeated Twitter and now—thanks to Mr. Schu’s passionate and tireless promotion of R. J. Palacio’s work—on Time’s Square.

Thursday, June 7th, 2012.

Directly across from The Hard Rock Café.


Alexander:  I like your habit of mind. “I was just wondering. . .”

I’ve always thought that “wondering” is most powerful gerund. “Wondering” is not sure if it wants to be a verb or a noun. But “wondering” knows what it wants to do. Perhaps:

  • wondering’s anything done by a few that accomplishes something magical for many.
  • wondering’s the connective stuff that brings people like August Pullman and readers together.
  • wondering’s what compels one reader to share a title with another reader.
  • wondering’s a skill—one that can be learned.
  • wondering’s not only mindful, but wondering’s a mind, full.
  • wondering can be a habit.
  • wondering can help us begin to see a path through a problem with which we are presented.

Will sharing Wonder with our reading communities invite a better sense of what it means to be human in the context of others trying to determine what it means to be human?

And is all of this really made possible by a few readers with the context of a problem that has no immediate solution? Can one book create an epidemic of empathy that could sustain a movement whose simple, sticky message asks us to work against the flow of a culture that presents the problem?

Can we see the balance between what we read and how we choose to live?

Can we see potential in the tipping point of wonder?


I was just wondering.

Paul W. Hankins teaches English 11 and AP English Language and Composition at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg, Indiana. He is the kind of book nerd that recognizes when people are reading on their porches in older neighborhoods around Jeffersonville, IN and Louisville, KY. He has been known to slow down to see if he can recognize or read the covers of these books. One time, it is said, that Mr. Hankins once stopped at a Disney World poolside to discuss books with two older readers. These kinds of habits delight his wife, Kristie, and his two children, Noah and Maddie. The family dog, Mia, is eternally devoted. The cats, KitKat and Butterfinger are neutral (is this the right word? I mean they cannot have more kittens).