Sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but words can give mighty blows to self-esteem. In the case of R.J. Palacio’s protagonist, August, stares diminish self-worth, snickers pierce daggers into confidence and alienation drives away any hope in experiencing true friendship.
Bullying is at the forefront of many conversations in American education, with many schools adopting “no tolerance” policies and conversations occurring among students on why intentionally shaming and harassing others is wrong and will no longer be accepted.
At 4:15 p.m. today in the lounge of the Pier Building, the CLSC Young Readers program will discuss Palacio’s book, Wonder, with members of the Chautauqua Theater Company.
Reading the New York Times best-selling novel, the young book aficionados take on the story of August, a conventional child with a facial deformity that opens him up to ridicule — from his peers’ gawking eyes, gaping jaws and pointed fingers.
Palacio invites audiences to embark on August’s first year of mainstream school — middle school at that — after years of homeschooling. Wonder takes an honest look at how great of an impact kindness can have on not only those who receive it, but also those who deliver its gift unto others.
CTC artist associate Marlee Koenigsberg said that she and the actors of the company are delighted to converse with the young readers, not only about Wonder’s powerful themes, but also to share their own stories.
“What the actors and I are doing is exploring moments in our own lives and in our own moments of history where we might have felt different or were outside of a moment and we saw someone who was different,” Koenigsberg said. “There are beautiful messages in the story about kindness, and I think by inspiring those acts of kindness — no matter how big or small they might be — is a hope in sharing this material. The hope is to have these students, even if just for a moment, think about being kinder than necessary.”
Wonder not only gives audiences the opportunity to walk the halls with August and experience his trials and tribulations, but also to hear voices of August’s classmates and older sister, Olivia. With her book lined with precepts running the gamut from Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” to Hamlet’s soliloquy and a special separate e-chapter from the bully’s perspective, Palacio hopes children and adults alike will use August’s story as a lesson in how to treat others.
“I hope that kids will come away with the idea that they are noticed; their actions are noted,” Palacio wrote on her website. “Maybe not immediately or directly or even in a way that seems obvious, but if they’re mean, someone suffers.
If they’re kind, someone benefits. And the choice is theirs: whether to be noticed for being kind or for being mean. They get to choose who they want to be in this world. And it’s not their friends and not their parents who make those choices: it’s them.”
Like Palacio, Koenigsberg also hopes that the Young Readers walk away aware that they can make a positive difference in how they treat others.
“We want to plant seeds of courage and compassion,” Koenigsberg said. “It’s OK to be human and be on either side, but it’s important to understand the power of our own kindness and the strength that we gain from accepting those that are different and accepting ourselves. If each young reader walks away with just a seed of those ideas planted and that moment of, ‘Oh, well I never thought of it that way and I can relate to that,’ then we’ve done our job.”