Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Power of First Impressions

Several years ago R.J. Palacio had a life-altering experience when she had a very brief encounter with a craniofacial child at an ice cream parlor.  The negative reaction of her young sons to seeing someone different left a permanent impression.  Ms. Palacio spent years, both consciously and subconsciously, thinking about this incident and putting herself in the shoes of the child with a facial difference.  I believe this is why her debut novel, Wonder, gives such an insightful perspective of what it really feels like to not only be a 10-year old boy with an extreme facial difference but to also be the parent, the sibling, or the friend of someone who looks different.

One of the things I like the most about Wonder is how it encompasses the entire family dynamic.  As parents of children with a craniofacial condition, we already know how it impacts both us and our other children.  Having lived over a decade as Peter’s mom, I can reflect on how I used to obsess over stares at the grocery store and incidents at the playground.  I was always consciously aware of his differences.  Thankfully, I had time to adjust to my role as his parent before having to coach him through social situations.  As he’s gotten older, Peter has taught me as much or more as I have taught him on how to interpret and navigate social incidents.  The important thing is that we have learned together, as a family, and that is a main theme that endears me to Wonder.  Like Auggies’s family, we have found that openness and a sense of humor are usually the best ways to encourage acceptance.

For our family, the timeliness and issues discussed in Wonder, couldn’t be better.  Peter, like the main character “Auggie”, is entering middle school and has a fascination for Star Wars, video games, and science.  They also both appreciate the unconditional love of a pet, the anonymity of wearing a mask on Halloween, and the benefits of using humor to put others at ease about their differences.  Although I don’t feel that Peter’s craniofacial condition is as extreme as Auggie’s, they do both have small/missing ears, trouble eating/swallowing, and the need to wear a very noticeable hearing aid at school.  I know that Peter, who has read the book, can relate to all of these things.  He can also relate to some of the teasing, questions, and staring that Auggie encounters.  In giving Peter the book, I was worried about how emotionally hard some of those parts might be for him to read.  Having read it first though, I was able to easily discuss the story with him.  In fact, it provided a lighter way to discuss some very heavy topics.  Peter loved the book and wants all of his friends to read it so, “they will understand me better.”

Unlike the fictional Auggie who has an older sister, Peter has a younger brother.  Because our youngest is only seven, we don’t have as much experience with sibling social issues.  In my experience with attending the CCA family retreats, however, I am always impressed with the older siblings.  They are some of the most mature and compassionate young adults I have ever met.  I’m so thankful that Jacob will also grow up attending the CCA Family retreats; that he will have established friendships with others who know what it’s really like to have a brother or sister who’s different.  Auggie’s older sister, Olivia, brings up important sibling issues of not feeling as important and not wanting to be defined as “the sister”.  We learn how Auggie’s condition impacted her friendships growing up and how they still affect her as she starts a new high school where no one knows about Auggie.  Ms. Palacio does an amazing job of developing Olivia’s sibling perspective as well as those of Auggie’s friends and parents.

The fact that Wonder is bringing national recognition to craniofacial differences in an extremely positive way, gives me hope that our society will someday embrace what we as craniofacial families already know:  “Beyond the Face is a Heart”.  As part of CCA’s campaign to promote September as craniofacial acceptance month, I am thrilled to announce that we have partnered with Random House to sell Wonder and to support their “Choose Kind” anti-bullying campaign.

If age appropriate, Wonder and the “Choose Kind” website are excellent tools to encourage discussion at schools and other community forums.  I intend to use both for an acceptance program I am helping to develop at Peter’s middle school.  With the escalation of violence and bullying in our schools, there has never been a more accessible and relevant time to approach school administrations about implementing an acceptance program.  Our kids make lasting impressions on everyone they meet no matter how brief the encounter.  As craniofacial families, I think it is our collective responsibility to ensure that those impressions are overwhelmingly positive.  If we are lucky, they may even be as life-altering and widespread as Ms. Palacio’s experience was in that ice cream parlor.

Here are some ways you can use Wonder to promote September as "Craniofacial Acceptance Month"...
  • Contact Annie Reeves at CCA’s office to order your copy of Wonder and to request other materials that can help you promote September as craniofacial acceptance month.  CCA is offering the book for $12/book (shipping included).  CCA's office number is (214) 570-9099 or 1-800-535-3643.
  • Visit  to make your “Choose Kind” pledge and to access anti-bullying resources and download the educator guide.
  • Visit Ms. Palacio’s website at for book club questions.
  • Promote the book on Twitter by using #thewonderofwonder.
  • Find Wonder on Facebook by searching “wonderthebook” or linking to (
  • View and share the book trailer video for Wonder.  It’s accessible on all the websites and social media outlined above.


  1. I can't wait to read this book! I am always looking for a good read and this is next on my list.

  2. I think the book is great. I could relate to Auggie. I was mainstreamed/moved to another school district before I started 5th grade. Palacio has a website where teachers can share that they plan to assign their students to read Wonder. I'm trying to get all my old schools to do it and also my client's schools.

  3. Great review of Wonder. I also enjoyed it tremendously and am so glad to see CCA spreading the word.

  4. I have read this book and can't recommend it enough to my family and friends. I am the grandmother to a beautiful two year old boy who was born with TCS. I am also a teacher to fifth grade children. I intend to read this book to all my students starting on the first day of school, and adopt the pledge to choose kind. As a member of CCA I already have my poster hanging in my classroom. This all works so perfectly with our schools anti-bullying campaign. Thank you Ms.Palacio for such a timely and beautifully written book!

  5. Wonderful book! I am using it as a read aloud for my fifth grade class. Although I would love to give each of my students a copy, that is just not in the checkbook for a teacher. So far the students love the book and want we to read all day long just to finish it. I relate the story to my life for them, my son Ty is also like Auggie. He loves Star Wars, had a dog named Daisy, and an older sister. Oh and he has Treacher Collins Syndrome. I would love to see another book written about Auggie as he grows!


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