R. J. Palacio’s new book for young readers, 365 Days of Wonder, grew out of her bestselling middle-grade novel, Wonder. In that book, new fifth-grader Auggie Pullman, who is attending school for the first time, is shunned and teased about a serious (though never explicitly described) facial deformity. Mr. Browne, Auggie’s English teacher and one of his few allies at school, writes a new precept on the board at the beginning of each month. The precept he writes on Auggie’s first day—“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind”—inspired Random House’s Choose Kind website in support of anti-bullying initiatives. 365 Days of Wonder offers young readers a collection of such precepts, which Mr. Browne defines as “anything that helps guide us when making decisions about really important things.”
The structure of 365 Days of Wonder is familiar: there’s a page for every day of the year, each containing an inspirational quote with the author’s name beneath. Contributors range from the famous to the obscure, with proverbs and lines from popular songs added to the mix. There’s a nice mix of cultures and time periods, although it would have been nice to see more women among the authors. Scattered throughout 365 Days of Wonder are precepts written by readers—mostly children—chosen from more than 1,200 postcards submitted to Palacio. All are positive, and most are thought-provoking openers for discussion in class or around the dinner table. Adults will recognize many of them, but most, if not all, will be new to younger readers.
At the end of each month’s precepts is an essay signed “Mr. Browne.” Some include essays and emails written by Mr. Browne’s former students. These voices add another dimension to Wonder and sometimes reveal the answers to mysteries in the novel, although spoilers are kept to a minimum. 365 Days of Wonder works very well as a standalone book.
“I love using precepts in my classroom,” Mr. Browne says in his comments after the February entries. “You throw them out there, and you never know what you’re getting back, what’s going to strike a chord with a kid, or what’s going to make them think a little deeper, a little bigger, than if they were just trying to answer a question from a book.” 365 Days of Wonder will give readers of any age the tools to do just that.
Tracy Barrett is a writer who lives in Nashville. Her eleventh novel, a young-adult retelling of Snow White entitled Fair as Snow, will be published in June 2015 by Harlequin TEEN.
Tagged: Children & YA