Sharing the Story of Wonder

By Tom Hamel, Director of Finance
Wonder book coverWonder, a book series by RJ Palacio that was adapted for film in 2017, has reached people all over the world. Its main character is Auggie Pullman, a 10-year-old boy who has a facial difference. As the story begins, Auggie is entering public school in the fifth grade after being homeschooled. In addition to experiencing this stressful change from his point of view, we also learn the perspectives of other people in Auggie’s life, and how their relationship with him changes each of them.

Like Auggie, I grew up with Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS). I loved the book, but was hesitant about the story receiving the “Hollywood treatment”. This feeling was shared by many in the TCS community. We questioned whether it would capture the day-to-day reality of those with craniofacial differences, and worried it would misrepresent the experience of people with disabilities – a population that is already widely misunderstood. Because people with craniofacial differences can be easily recognized, we also didn’t want to become default spokespeople for the movie especially if we didn’t agree with the message.

The reaction from the TCS community was more positive than expected. Although the film doesn’t really touch on the medical and economic burdens of families affected by disabilities, it captures some of the emotional and psychological aspects by telling the story from alternate angles, which helps give the viewer or reader insight into how our words and actions affect other people. The story told from the point of view of Via, Auggie’s sister, gave me a whole new level of appreciation of how much behind-the-scenes work my younger sister did to protect me from bullying, and the impact it had on her life.

The series of Wonder books has sold over 6 million copies in 45 countries; the movie, which debuted in the top 4 for 5 straight weeks, has grossed $300M worldwide. Soon it will be streaming to houses in your community, which will continue to spread the #choosekind movement. The story that many of us affected by disabilities knows so well is now being shared with a much wider audience, expanding awareness and deepening understanding.

Wonder has also found its way into classrooms across the country as part of their required reading. In talking with friends, I was pleased to hear how much it resonated with their children. I was especially struck by an 8-year-old who has an invisible disability, but found confidence in himself by relating to Auggie and his story.
You can help spread the work in your local schools by asking a teacher or principal if they are interested in reading Wonder. In addition to the list of curriculum found on the following craniofacial organization websites, you can also have a Wonder Kid visit the school.

Changing Perspectives

Children’s Craniofacial Association