6 lessons R. J. Palacio’s Wonder can teach us about bullying

Bullying affects children and adults, but it’s never too late to learn to be kind to others. R. J. Palacio’s inspiring and eye-opening story of August Pullman teaches some valuable lessons about bullying…

Puffin team
An illustration from R. J. Palacio’s Wonder of Auggie and his dog flying off into the sky on a rocket ship

Whether you’re the littlest of kids or the biggest of adults, bullying is ALWAYS a choice.

It’s an unkind action that someone has decided to make; usually, a physical one (like hitting someone) or a verbal one (like calling someone a mean name or writing something nasty about someone else on social media).

Not one person out there has an excuse for not showing respect for others. Respect is something we all expect (and deserve), but it works two ways – we have to show respect to others, in return.

In R. J. Palacio’s award-winning book Wonder, readers will learn a lot about respect and kindness by walking in the shoes of the story’s main character – ten-year-old August Pullman (or ‘Auggie’ for short) who lives in New York City in America with his mum, dad, sister Via, and their dog Daisy.

In Wonder, we immediately learn that Auggie was born with a medical condition that left him with a facial abnormality, which means that he looks different from a lot of other people in the world. He has been home-schooled by his parents his entire life, in an attempt to protect him from lots of harsh things in this world – like bullies, who don’t always give people like Auggie a chance. Now, his parents are sending him to a real school and all Auggie wants to do is convince his new classmates that he’s just like them… underneath it all. He’s so much more than just how his face looks – in fact, doesn’t that go for all of us?!

You’ll join Auggie as he adapts to regular school life, but as you can imagine, that comes with a fair few ups and downs; the downs often involve different forms of bullying.  

Out of Auggie’s struggles and accomplishments, themes of strength, acceptance, resilience, kindness, and respect leap out of the pages of Wonder, making it an impactful read during Anti-Bullying Week for all children.

Here are a few lessons about bullying that we can all learn (no matter how big we are!) by getting to know Auggie in the truly wonderful pages of Wonder

1. Don’t be afraid of difference

Someone will often start bullying someone else because they see that person as different from themselves in some way. In Wonder, Auggie is seen as different because he was born with a condition that left him with a facial abnormality, making his face look different from many other faces. Sadly, both in real life and in the world of books, a lot of people are scared by differences, because they often don’t understand them. Auggie’s friend Jack comments that Auggie’s face scared him when he first saw it in front of an ice cream shop. But as Auggie stresses while telling his story, although he may look different on the outside, he’s very much an ordinary boy on the inside. Throughout the course of the book, a lot of characters learn this lesson (some quicker than others) and start seeing Auggie’s similarities shine through. But remember this, too: our differences are what make us all unique and special.

2. Don’t follow the crowd: BE A SUMMER!

A lot of bullies find their strength in the 'support' around them. If someone else is laughing at their jokes or backing them up in some way, that person is actually helping that bully do their job. Remember: bullies love an audience. Julian and Jack show us this on Halloween in Wonder – for those who have read the book, imagine how this scene would have played out if none of the boys had been laughing at each other’s jokes about Auggie. So, be a Summer instead! She’s one of our all-time favourite characters in Wonder. Make decisions that feel good, that you want to make. If you like someone, go and be their friend – it shouldn’t matter what other people think. If following the crowd doesn’t feel right, find your own path, as Summer does in Wonder. Make the friends you want to have, not the friends you think you should have.

3. Our words are powerful: they can make someone feel wonderful and awful

We are all responsible for the words we say and type, especially when they are about other people because words have the potential to hurt; just as much as a punch or a kick. Auggie was devastated when he overheard some of the boys at his school calling him mean names on Halloween. Those boys might not have known that Auggie could hear them, but their words were still powerful and hurtful – and they didn’t think about the consequences of that. So, here’s the thing; show respect and be kind with your words and then it won’t matter who hears or reads them. Why not make an effort to use your words to show respect and kindness to someone this week – someone you perhaps don’t speak to very often – and watch what happens.

4. Don’t judge a book by its cover

Because you’ll never get the full story! Lots of the characters that we meet in Wonder immediately judge Auggie because of how his face looks; as a result, they’re often mean to him or they just avoid him because they’ve already made up their minds about him. This is how a lot of bullying starts in life; when someone doesn’t bother getting to know someone for who they are, and instead, just makes a speedy, often incorrect judgment about them. It’s not very respectful and it’s certainly not kind. We should never judge anyone in life without taking the time to get to know who they are; before reading the whole story, so to speak. Respect someone enough to learn their story.

5. Be kind to you, as well as others

While it’s very important to show kindness and respect to others in life, we also need to remember to show kindness and respect to ourselves, too. We all deserve to be happy and healthy, so, if something is upsetting us, we owe it to ourselves to seek out help. A victim of bullying won’t always go and tell the teacher, their parents, or friends right away – because they might be embarrassed or scared – but it’s SO important to. Be kind to yourself and ask for help – no one is going to judge you for doing that. There is more help and love around you than you know. In Wonder, Auggie cuts off his Padawan braid (he’s a big Star Wars fan!) after some other children make fun of him for it. You should never feel the need to change any part of yourself because of a bully; by doing that, you’re letting them win. So, respect and be kind to yourself by telling someone you trust right away.

6. Showing respect can mean saying you’re sorry

Here’s the thing, if you read a book like Wonder and start to feel guilty because perhaps you’ve been in the shoes of Jack or Julian (two boys that upset Auggie in different ways throughout the book), know that it’s never too late to start showing respect and kindness to someone. Sometimes that can start with two simple words: “I’m sorry.” Lots of lessons are learned throughout Wonder and different characters learn to change their behaviour because they realise it’s not right and it’s hurting someone. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, so if you feel like your actions have hurt someone else, start with an apology and go from there.

So to all you Wonders out there – remember to never judge a book by its cover and to always choose kind.


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