Why I Think Wonder Didn’t Win a Newbery by Matt Renwick

This post was written in front of 27 5th graders at my school. We took two separate periods to construct this post after I read aloud the book to them. Note: Some students did not agree with my opinion. This persuasive post does not necessarily represent the opinion of any student in my building. As well, they clearly articulated their thinking with me as I shared the process I use for writing for a global audience. I took some of their input and incorporated it into what you see below.

Before you say anything, let me point out all the positives about the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

First of all, the dialogue between the students was excellent. I have taught 5th grade for seven years, and I could easily hear the conversations the author created inside my own head. This is exactly how ten and eleven year olds talk. For example, when Auggie was supposed to dress up as Boba Fett but chose the Scream, Jack’s conversation with the other boys was very realistic. Talking behind people’s back the way they were, it happens more often with students than it should.

Second, Auggie was a one-of-a-kind main character. I have never read about someone like this before. For instance, with his physical condition, it was amazing that he had the courage to enter school as a 5th grader at all. The author also really gave me a strong visual of what he looked like. As an example, the way he ate was described “like a tortoise,” with the food being chewed in the front of his mouth. But as I said, his courage to put himself out there was commendable.

Lastly, the structure of the story was very unique. Each character was given a sizable part of the novel to tell their perspective of the story. In fact, some of the characters, such as Justin, Via’s boyfriend, had font that looked like text messaging – no capitals and grammar errors. Isn’t that how high school students might write?

With that, I believe Wonder by R.J. Palacio did not win a Newbery because of the ending.

Now, not all of us agree on this, but I believe it is important to look critically on any type of writing to better understand it. Maybe I am playing devil’s advocate, I don’t know.

For starters, here are the criteria the Newbery committee uses when evaluating a book:

  • Interpretation of the theme or concept

  • Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization

  • Development of a plot

  • Delineation of characters

  • Delineation of a setting

  • Appropriateness of style.

(Source: American Library Association’s website, found at www.ala.org)

Notice the third criterion: “Development of plot.” Although I found the book hard to put down, I thought that the last scene, with Auggie being recognized in front of the whole school was a bit over-the-top. It seemed a little “Hollywood,” like in the movie Rudy or Radio, with the main character being carried off the field. Does that really happen in real life? Not everyone gets that experience, where they are totally redeemed in the end. Sometimes, like in the book The One and Only Ivan, a good ending doesn’t mean a 100% happy ending (the gorilla ends up in a zoo, which is still captivity). This worked for me, because this is the best resolution I could have imagined for Ivan in this story, which did win the Newbery.

matt renwick April 2013However, in the end, R.J. Palacio wrote Wonder for kids more than for adults. Many of our students cheered for Auggie, a student in need, when his strongest supporters backed him up in the end. They thought this was a perfect way to wrap things up. And what’s wrong with a Hollywood ending once in awhile? We could probably use more of that these days. It might also be wise to remember that Auggie still has a disability and will continue to live with this for the rest of his life.

Despite what anyone thinks, I believe this book will stand the test of time when other award winners may not. For example, Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing by Judy Blume did not win a Newbery in 1972, but you can still check it out in most school media centers today. Can we say the same for Annie and the Old One (Miles), which did win a Newbery Honor in 1972? Wonder made an impact on many people, with its story of acceptance and kindness. I believe it will adorn the shelves of many libraries 40 years from now, just as some of Judy Blume’s books do today.

Matt Renwick is a principal of an elementary school in Central Wisconsin. He regularly visits his teachers’ classrooms to share great literature with students. Prior to becoming an administrator, Matt was a 5th and 6th grade teacher. You can follow him on Twitter at @ReadByExample and read more of his posts at http://readingbyexample.com.