Wonder is the grandfather of all "Taking Care of Others" books! If you haven't read Wonder yet and you are as passionate about the importance of teaching children empathy and compassion toward others, you need to stop reading this post now and rush over to your local library and pick up a copy!
Several years ago I was sitting in a SIP (Shared Involvement Process) meeting at our school with administrators, teachers, and parents when one of the parents brought up a point that she would like to see more clubs at our school. In that same meeting, our school secretary brought to us a request from our local Active Faith program to run food drives every month to collect for those in need. That night a light bulb went off in my head that maybe I could form a club for 4th graders to supervise the collection of the food drives. The next morning the Dolsen Helping Hands Club was born. That spring my secretary gave me some paperwork to fill out to collect a stipend for running the club. A stipend? I told her I couldn't collect money for running a charitable club. That night again another light bulb went off and I asked myself, "What if I take the money and reinvest it back into books for kids that have important messages of friendship, empathy, and compassion?" The next morning the Dolsen "Taking Care of Others" initiative was born! I would buy books with these themes and then as a whole school we would commit to reading these books to the students having important conversations about what it means to "take care of others." And so the search began for books with these very important themes.
As I searched for books I kept coming across the hashtag #choosekind which ultimately led me to Wonder by R.J. Palacio (@RJPalacio). I read it that summer and was blown away by the story and the messages embedded in the book. I don't want to share too much of the story, as I encourage you to pick up the book and just immerse yourself in the story. I will only share what is printed on the inside cover:
"August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school - until now. He's about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid, then you know who hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?"
That year I decided to wrap our whole "Taking Care of Others" initiative around the core message in Wonder - #choosekind. The entire 4th and 5th grade classes participated in a read aloud of Wonder. I was even able to connect with a local real life Auggie - Peter Dankelson and his mother, Dede Dankelson (@ddankelson). They came out and gave our students a very special presentation - Beyond The Face is a Heart. Peter and his mother work to help kids develop empathy for children with craniofacial differences. Our Helping Hands Club then sold bookmarks at our school to raise money for Children's Craniofacial Association. That same year we also had the honor of participating in a shared read aloud experience of Wonder with a sister classroom and their teacher (@Catherine_D2013) in Canada. Their class also got the opportunity to Skype with Peter. The year was amazing and the whole experience is something I will never forget. I realized that year that I HAVE TO CONTINUE spreading this message to others schools and teachers and in the summer of 2015 the idea for the #TakingCareThurs Project was born. I hope you too will pick up a copy of Wonder and become inspired to start a "Taking Care of Others" #choosekind movement at your school or to participate in the #TakingCareThurs Project. Kindness is contagious...it only takes a spark. I hope you will light the spark!
Some of my favorite quotes from Wonder:
“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”
“It’s not enough to be friendly. You have to be a friend.”
“We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness.”
“Do people look the same when they go to heaven, mommy?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"Then how do people recognize each other?"
"I don't know, sweetie. They just feel it. You don't need your eyes to love, right?”
“My mom smiled at me. Her smile kind of hugged me.”
Resources for Getting Started:
Random House: http://choosekind.tumblr.com/
CCA Kids: http://www.ccakidsblog.org/p/choose-kind-challenge.html