Monday, March 25, 2013

One Book One School One Wonder

The Choose Kind movement continues to roll along. I'm not sure if R.J. Palacio knew what she was unleashing onto the reading masses when Wonder hit bookstores in February 2012. [Note: If you have not yet read Ms. Palacio's Wonder you need to take care of that immediately. Seriously, I'll wait right here].

I, like many others, started to hear about Wonder shortly after it was published. I promptly put it at the top of my Summer Reading List. It was such a powerful story for me that I almost couldn't wait for the summer to end and to introduce August Pullman to my school. Among many things, I was immediately struck by the wide appeal that the story had. I could envision people of all ages loving, accepting and being moved by the characters and the storyline. And right away I knew what I wanted to do with this book.

One Book One Community is what happens when the group reading experience goes big. It's like a giant book club. The idea has been gaining in popularity during the past decade. My region calls it One Book One Community. In other areas it is known as such things as One City One Story, Everyone Reads, and One Book One Campus. The premise is basically the same. A common book is chosen and it is promoted and read by as many people in that community as possible. Often acitivites or guest speakers will be offered to enhance the reading experience. I thought this concept would be an excellent way to promote literacy and to build community at my school. I needed the right book to get the ball going, and I found it in Wonder.

Schedules can quickly start to fill up once the school year has begun, so I came in pitching my idea at the end-of-summer staff meeting. The next thing I needed to do was enlist the aid of a co-conspirator. Luckily for me my very talented and enthusiastic co-worker, Nan was only too eager to jump aboard. Timing was definitely in our favour because no one at our school had heard of the book yet. The students certainly had not caught wind of it, and this became a key in how the whole program was accepted. Throughout September and October we encouraged as many staff members as possible to read Auggie's story while we worked out the details of how our One Book One School initiative were going to play out. It didn't take a lot of convincing. Word quickly spread about the wonder of Wonder. It bears emphasizing here that the success of the endeavour would not have been realized had it not been for the unbelievable support that we received from teaching staff and from our prinicipal. It was all-hands-on-deck for sure.

Wonder is an amazing story about acceptance and celebrating the differences in one another and ties in very nicely with bully awareness. Nan did a presentation on this topic at our launch assembly. Her beautiful picture book, Bird Child (Tundra, 2009) has bullying as its central theme and she is no stranger to these types of presentations. She further connected with the students by playing her guitar and singing a poignant song that seemed to fit perfectly. We showed the official Wonder book trailer at this assembly and then presented each classroom teacher with their copy of the book to take back to their classrooms to read together.

It was hard not to notice the buzz that Wonder created. It was being discussed in classrooms, in the staff room, in the hallways, and certainly in the Library. From the beginning we decided that the content of the book was most appropriate for our junior and intermediate grades (4-8). We have all split grades in our school and didn't want to open it up for the 2/3 class when we had the grade twos in the 1/2 class to contend with. Fortunately Nan teaches these students in Art, and so she was able to introduce the theme of Wonder with more appropriate picture books and activities best suited for the primary students. The junior and intermediate teachers related the book to curriculum to the extent and manner to which they saw fit.  I was so impressed at some of the things the students would tell me  was happening in the classrooms.

As luck would have it, we were able to make contact with the singer/songwriter whose song Nan had played at our kick-off. Sacha is a talented musician who agreed to bring her anti-bullying message to our school and perform for us at a wrap-up concert. By the time she arrived, her song "Stix N Stones" had been played many times at our school. When you listen to the video below you can easily tell how well the students know the lyrics, and how happy they are to sing along.


So hopefully we didn't raise the bar too high because now the hunt is on to find the next Wonder! If anyone reading out there can make a suggestion or two, I'm all ears!

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