I have waited for many years for the next novel by R.J. Palacio to come out. I am an elementary school (Grades 3-5) librarian and a HUGE fan of Wonder and its associated books. When I saw this was a “Wonder Story” I was even more excited to get it for my students (and being a graphic novel would appeal to them even more!)
I received it yesterday, read it this morning and was disappointed, angry and annoyed. I felt compelled to write a review to hopefully influence others to think twice before purchasing it for a child or library.
I will start with something positive. If not for pages 197-204, this would be a great book for students ages 12 and up to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust.
My three issues with this book (in order of what made me most annoyed/angry):
1. Politics has NO PLACE in children’s books! When I got to pages 197-204, I was honestly shocked (a newspaper headline reads “Children Separated from Parents as Part of Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy” and the grandmere in the story says “How can this be happening? Have we learned nothing?” I will preface what I’m about to write by saying I am a registered Democrat and not what I would call a Trump supporter (though I do agree with some of his policies). That being said, I was disgusted that Palacio would try to compare the Holocaust to ILLEGAL immigrants trying to get into our country. The innocent young girl Sara, in White Bird, is a LEGAL resident of her country and has done nothing wrong other than being the “wrong” religion. She is torn from her family, friends and school and forced to live in hiding in order to survive. America has welcomed BILLIONS of LEGAL immigrants from other countries who went through the proper channels to get here. I welcome them and so should everyone else. But border-jumping ILLEGAL immigrants who often put their children in harm’s way by giving them to strangers cannot and should not be compared to those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. To make such a parallel is INSULTING, incorrect and an ignorant distortion of the truth.
2. Julian was a total JERK in Wonder (though he did redeem himself a bit in Auggie & Me when we learn that he is this way because of his parents). I find it hard to believe that a kid who was raised by someone whose own parent was a victim of the Holocaust, would be so cruel to others. Julian has heard his grandmere’s story before. He even carries the name of the character Julian in White Bird who was made fun of and ignored by his peers because of his polio. So why would his parents turn out the way they did and raise a mean kid? It just made no sense to me. It would have been better if this was Christopher or Charlotte’s grandmother.
3. Amazon says this book is for Grades 3-7 and ages 8-12. I disagree. For the age group of my students (8-10), I would not recommend this UNLESS it was read to students by the teacher with lots of discussion about the Holocaust and the horrible violence. Even if this was the case, I would not recommend it be read to students younger than 5th grade. There are several violent scenes with blood that are very sad. A person who helped the students escape to the woods is gunned down right near them and then others are threatened with violence. I know this was the reality but other books for this age have been successful at depicting the horrors without this graphic nature (Number the Stars, Hidden, etc.)
I was set to give this book 4 stars until I got to page 197. Perhaps Mrs. Palacio will think twice before inserting her political opinion into her future children’s books. This one will not be on the shelves in my library.