I have some time between the end of the school year and teaching at debate camp, so I’ve been focusing on prepping the two novels I’m teaching for the first time: Wonder for my supported ELA, and The Thing About Jellyfish for my unsupported ELA. I’ve read both books before and loved them, so I’m really excited to be able to read them with students. Both books deal with similar themes, but have different approaches, so it’ll be interesting to teach them alongside each other.
I just finished going through Wonder, creating a schedule for how many pages the students will read each night, as well as discussion questions for them to answer in their reading journals. It struck me how much the theme of choosing kindness over being “right” is threaded throughout the entire book, as different characters are faced with that decision. I honestly never liked that saying much–or the other version of it, “it is better to be kind than right.” Being right is important! I’m not going to give someone false information just to be nice! What kind of message is that? But after re-reading the book and thinking deeply about each set of 6-10 pages, I realized that I had completely misunderstood what “right” means in this context. It’s not about being factually accurate–it’s about doing what’s expected, or what’s socially “correct.” The clearest example of this is early in the book, when Summer is the only person to sit with August at lunch on the first day of school. The “right” thing for her to do–the socially correct thing, the expected thing–would be for her to sit with the girls who were whispering about August, which she was going to do originally. Jack chooses the “right” thing by sitting with two boys he wanted to be friends with, on the other side of the room. But by sitting with August, Summer choses to be kind, even though it could have trashed her social capital (something that becomes clearer to her later on).
This idea of kindness is intertwined with another recurring theme: that you don’t have to be mean to hurt someone. This idea requires a much deeper level of self-awareness that I think is pretty subtle, and can be challenging for middle schoolers to process. I’m looking forward to discussing this idea in particular with my students. I’m glad we’re reading this book first trimester, because I think these ideas can really permeate through the rest of the year.
I’ll have to come up with some final project to tie things together at the end of the book. An essay, of course, but maybe some kind of anti-bullying project? I’m not sure. But it would be nice for some kind of call to action to come out of studying the book together.