Level 1 State Winner Sokeara Sanford from Wickford Middle School reads her letter to author R.J. Palacio about the book Wonder.
Dear R.J. Palacio,
I’ve never really chosen to read books on my own, most of my free time was spent playing soccer or hanging out with friends. Silly right? But sure enough, there I was again reading something I had to. I thought for sure it was going to bore me to death and by the end I’d just be so incredibly relieved that it was over. Then, when I started to actually read your book, it opened up a whole new world for me, one where reading is actually important and very few books can do that. Fireworks set off full of colors mixing together that form an indescribable feeling; your vision is clouded and just can’t take your eyes off a book, like seriously? Yes, seriously. New interests have formed now that you opened this door for me, I never even thought this feeling existed, when you’re so into a book, yup, a book. Your book did that for me. I really loved the character August and how his individuality is the main focus of the story. Before I read your book, Wonder, I have to admit, I didn’t even know people who had faces like that even existed. Your book really taught me some great lessons.
August has definitely changed my point of view on kids with special needs or disabilities my age, even though August doesn’t even have special needs. I’ve never been bullied or been mean to kids like that, but I’d always ask people about them. I can connect to the title of the novel, Wonder, because I’ve always wondered about these kind of irregular features some people are born with. This book gave me my answers. Whenever I saw somebody like that, I would try not to stare just like August described, and I’d always sneak peeks at them but I didn’t know they actually saw me. When I read about how August said people would stare at him, secretly, I felt a ping of guilt because I had done that too. In addition, I always wondered how a person with a distinct feature like that thinks. I always had this theory of them sort of being stupid, or having lower intelligence then people like me at least before I read your novel. I don’t have special needs or know anybody who does, but your book gave me a pretty darn good perspective on what they are like. Thanks for that too. When I found out how great August was at science and overall academics, I was actually shocked, sadly. August was probably one of the bravest people I’ve ever heard of (even though he isn’t real). I would’ve never had the courage to go to school if I looked like that. His words about starting school really touched me like nothing else. August is amazing and nobody can compare to his bravery. I think I really look up to him. This was a very emotional book in numerous ways. Mean kids just don’t get how bad things can hurt somebody. The way Julian was asked to befriend August and at first asked him, “what’s with your face?” it really made my heart sink because I have been in the same situation before, only I was in the position of August.
First, at the beginning of this year, I had a tooth that was like no other. It stuck out of the left side of my gum and it was there for about 9 – 10 months. I was very self-conscious about it. I would never have a big smile on my face like I used to. Instead I would almost half-smile to hide the tooth and it wouldn’t show my true self. People would make remarks about it, not trying to be hurtful but it really felt awful to me. Also, the worst part was, that the dentist wouldn’t take it out! Then, at the beginning of 6th grade this year, picture day rolled around. I usually am nervous about this day, but this year I was as nervous as a lamb about to get slaughtered, just like August’s dad said about August before he started school. I was too worried about it looking horrible, that I messed up and even my older sister said I didn’t look happy in it. Eventually, I got the picture back, and there it was, my tooth, completely ruined the picture. I was heartbroken. My very first year of middle school and my yearbook picture was a complete embarrassment. Then one day somebody came up to me and asked me, “wow, what’s with your tooth?” I just stood there calmly and answered them completely normal like they hadn’t just embarrassed me. But deep inside, it was like my whole body just fell apart, like I had just been broken in two, I probably felt the same way August did when Julian said that.
In addition, the fact that this story is put in present day really hit me. “Were kids like August still treated like they meant nothing?” yes, they still are. It gave me a perspective on how these kids really are gifted in their own ways even if they aren’t popular. I even bet, thanks to you, I’m probably one of the only ones in my grade who realizes that, but I obviously wouldn’t have said that a couple weeks ago. Looks are one of the main things kids are judged by at my school, and when I thought I was having a hard time starting middle school, like imagine August! Now I realize how lucky I really am, and I shouldn’t be complaining.
Next, throughout this book, I kept referring myself to Jack and Summer. Even though Jack was requested to be extra-friendly to August, he really enjoyed him as a friend. I would’ve never been able to be that brave. I would just be thinking about whether or not this would ruin my reputation or maybe make me less popular. Then, I realized that this should be out of pure generosity. In one part of the book when Julian is talking bad about August, Jack punches him in the face. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but he was willing to defend August on his own will and he shows a stupendous example of what I think friendship is all about! I just wish I could be like him! Although, before I get too ahead of myself, Jack and I have some improving to do. Like Jack, I would’ve had very mixed feelings about Augie and probably just like Jack would’ve said mean things about him behind his back.
Then there’s Summer, she is probably even more stupendous then Jack. The fact that she befriended Augie without anybody asking her to, it was just so shocking to me. I don’t think I know a single person who would ever do that. Summer is really a one-of-a-kind, nobody, even my closest friends would do that in a million years and even though she is fiction, I really look up to Summer and someday hope to be as fantastic as her. Also, when I first heard about Summer, I made a false assumption that she had blonde hair and blue eyes with pale skin, just her name wound its way into another one of my wrong conclusions, I still looked up to her. Then, when I found out she looked like me with dark skin and dark hair, it really took me by surprise. I looked like the character I’ve always wanted to be like! Summer and I have strong similarities and many differences. Such as, I would never, ever be able to do something as out-of-this-world amazing as she did. But we also think about popularity, such as when Summer was invited to Savannah’s party, she was so excited. I would be too. Anybody like me would. But, I probably would’ve stayed, just to fit in, I’m really proud of Summer for leaving that party, and showing me what I can do to become more like her, now I probably would leave too. The whole time I was reading your book, I asked my self over and over again, “Would I be as kind as Jack and Summer and become friends with August, or would I be like Julian?” ehh……I still don’t know about that, but there’s so much you can really do to a kid like me. You probably did the complete maximum, teaching me wondrous lessons I can use in the future. The entire time I kept thinking how mean Julian was but then I remembered that I would be just as mean before I experienced your novel. Your words really encouraged me with inspiration no other book could have. As I read, August’s words just melted into my brain and froze forever. I will never forget them. Conclusions in my mind that I use to have about people like him just clouded away as I read this. I almost felt as if I were somebody with a deformed face. You expressed his feelings so well that it felt as if you really sucked me into his thoughts and reformed me again as him.
August really touched me as more than just “another character in another book”. Now he is part of my life. Someday when I see somebody like him, I will probably immediately refer to him in my mind. Thank you for writing such an interesting yet educational novel. If I hadn’t read this, I would’ve had the same thoughts about these kinds of people and they probably would’ve never changed. People are people no matter what they look like, you taught me that. August and I have so many similarities even if we don’t look a thing alike. (In fact, I bet so many people just like the person I used to be, have even more similarities then I do, they just don’t want to admit it in their mind. You impacted an 11 year old’s life who you didn’t even know). Your book and writing is one-of-a-kind just like August. August was like a friend to me and I will never forget him or you.
Sokeara Sanford, age 11, Rhode Island