On Wonder

I recently finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio aloud to my daughter, which might seem like a surprising choice to some since the book is, arguably, inspiration porn that perpetuates the idea that the people who look significantly different deserve accolades for simply existing and anyone who befriends such a person is a hero.

Frankly, that’s exactly why I chose to read it with her rather than let her find it on her own, which she likely would, considering how popular the book has become. This way we could take the story slowly to parse out what I see as the problematic elements of the story as we read. I have complicated feelings about this book as I expect that many other people in my position—people who are used to being stared at because they have a significantly different body—share. It isn’t easy to read about Auggie’s award for “bravery” at the end of the book when readers are well aware that he has done nothing to deserve it.  It really isn’t easy to watch Auggie accept the eventual popularity he gets at school, which is more condescending than it is kind. As I found reading with my daughter, these aren’t easy things to talk about either.

But in my world, it’s necessary to talk about them. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been given inordinate accolades or given apparent hero status for simply existing. Or how often my long-term partner has been seen as saintly for being with me. So when I read Wonder the first time, I read a book that portrayed ableism, especially internalized ableism, in a way that was painfully affecting and emotional. I admit, I thought it was obvious to readers that August should not have been given the award and that the mascot-like relationship he has with his peers at the end of the book was not healthy friendship. When I finished the book that first time, long before it was published, I was optimistic about the way that this book could share parts of my experience in a way that I hadn’t been able to communicate before.

Unfortunately, the book couldn’t seem to communicate it either. Or perhaps the message that I thought was there never really was. Even on re-reading it now, I’m not really sure. I still found it difficult to read at times in how realistic some of it was. The character of Miranda, in particular, felt real to me in the worst way. I have known people who feel like they deserve some sort of “credit” for befriending people who are different. I have known many, many people who feel that protecting people, the way that Miranda seeks to protect August, is love/kindness/friendship. I truly hope that no one finishes that book thinking that that’s what friendship is. That that’s what August wants from the people in his life. But I’m worried that that’s exactly what people have been getting from this book.

I love that the book has inspired so many people to Choose Kind. I only wonder if people are confusing being inspired by someone for being kind to them when the two actually have very little to do with each other. I love that the book created a place for my daughter and I to talk about healthy friendships, bravery, and other important but not often discussed topics.

I may not like the truths that this book captured about the way we treat people who are different, but that doesn’t make them any less true.  I don’t know that my thoughts about this book or about disability/ableism are fully formed or off base. Here is what I do know: one insensitive thought or action does not define you. Via isn’t a bad person for what she thinks about August. Jack isn’t evil for what he says about August. You aren’t a bad person for double-taking or staring at someone like August (or at me). You aren’t a bad person for being curious or expressing curiosity—even if you express it kind of rudely. That moment isn’t all there is. There is always more to the story. Kindness is being open to the stories you haven’t heard yet.

Choose kind, but know that sympathy isn’t kindness. Pity isn’t kindness. Special treatment isn’t kindness. Know that this book is mostly showing what not to do when it comes to kindness. For me, the book gets at a deeper truth than simply “choose kind.” It shows how the kind choice isn’t always obvious. And sometimes our instincts about kindness are wrong.

To close, here is Stella Young talking about inspiration porn:

Advertisements

Kindness in Chalk

You could still see the messages written three different languages chalked on the sidewalk in front of my daughter’s school earlier this week from the October 10th Kindness in Chalk event. The words were faded then, but they still have me hope.

I couldn’t watch this video without getting a little teary. I know I’m kind of a sucker for this kindness stuff, but give it a chance. :)

Words matter, and small kindnesses matter. I really believe that, and I believe that we need to take this message beyond Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.  As always, I’m planning to spread the idea with books.

smallestStart with some picture books:

  • The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts – In this picture book, Sally notices everything, and she ends up making a big difference.
  • Because of You by B.G. Hennessy – A picture book to share the idea that every person can make a difference.
  • Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – Start talking about paying it forward with kids in this picture book.

You might also wish to check out the Year of Minnesota Nice blog–not to mention the Be Nice Box–for more ideas to spread kindness in your community.

 

Choose to Act

For many people, May 1st is a day of prayer.  For a growing number of others, it is a day of reason.  Sometimes it seems that no two groups of people are further apart than these.  But no matter our preference for prayer or reason on May 1st, we can agree that action is needed to make our world a better place.  The Week of Action (April 24-29) is designed to bring people together to celebrate our ability to make a difference in the here and now.

I plan to engage in small acts of kindness for the next six days.  I was inspired by a book, of course.  There’s always a book in my plans somewhere.  The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz is a feel-good novel about the power of good deeds.  Maybe the idea sounds cheesy to you.  But to me, it sounds do-able.  It might not seem like you’re saving the world when you’re planting flowers in someone’s yard or leaving small gifts for your neighbors, but you are saving little tiny pieces of the world with every action.

 

Hopefully this is just the beginning of my own personal sense of action.  Let’s all choose to act.

Thursday 3: Random Acts of Kindness

No need to check your calendar.  I know it isn’t Thursday.  I’ve been dealing with computer issues all week, and it has made keeping up with my blog schedule a bit tricky.  But I didn’t want to let Random Acts of Kindness Week slip by without any mention after my colleague brought it to my attention on Books in Bloom, so here is a belated Thursday 3.

Three Small Ways to Be Kind This Week (and beyond):

  • treatsomeoneShare your books.  This reminds me that I have been sorely neglecting the Little Free Library in my neighborhood.  Something about the weather lately has kept me from walking by it as often as I used to.  I will have to change that today.  I love leaving a book or two on my way to the store and noticing that the book is already gone when I walk by on my way home.  If you don’t have a Little Free Library nearby, you might send your books with our troops overseas with Operation Paperback, which was recently featured on The Blogunteer.
  • Treat someone.  My company treated us to Valentine’s Day cupcakes this past week, and I treated my 5 year-old to the heart-shaped ring from my cupcake.  Everyone was happy.  I’m thinking of who I might treat today.
  • Say something nice.  Positivity and appreciation are always great. If you need a little inspiration to see the positive, check out Ten Things I Love About You by Daniel Kirk (because picture books are the answer to everything in my world), in which two friends manage to see the positive qualities in each other even when you think they are getting on each other’s nerves.  It’s a lesson story, but it has the comedic timing to make it gentle enough to open a discussion with little kids about friendship issues.

Or just smile.  It’s good for you.  :)

 

Happy Random Acts of Kindness Week!

Other posts about kindness: Choosing Kind and In the Spirit of Kindness

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links benefits this blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

 

 

Choosing Kind

choosekind

wonderWhen I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I had no idea how popular it would become. Frankly, I was distracted by my disappointment that it hadn’t been published in time to include in my article about books that explore physical differences.  I blogged about for my employer twice (naming it a “promising bloom” here and mentioning the multiple narrator device here), and it’s come up this blog at least once that I remember.

Since then it has become a bit of a phenomenon.  There was award buzz, a hashtag, and a whole movement surrounding this book.  And it’s moving beyond kids: in the UK, there is an adult/all ages version of the book on shelves.  I’m happy whenever you get adults to consider young people’s point of view by getting them to read children’s books, but this book in particular, I’d like to push into the hands of the general public.  It is an opportunity to see out so many difference eyes, to see why people make the choices they do, and what the consequences of those choices might be.  The best way to get people to make kind choices is to share stories like this one.

If I haven’t convinced you to read it yet, perhaps the book’s trailer will do so:

Kindness is an all ages choice, and this book spans a wide range of ages, as I mentioned.  But for those with preschoolers or primary graders looking to explore kindness and empathy, try one of these:

  • homeforbirdFairy Goes A-Marketing – this is a picture book version of a poem about a fairy who sets her caged animals free or gives away she things to help others.
  • Say Hello – Explores the feeling of being left out and encourages kids to include everyone.
  • Jamaica’s Blue Marker – Jamaica doesn’t want to share her markers with Russell until she learns to look at why he acts so mean at school.
  • Each Kindness – A new girl starts at Chloe’s school, but she won’t play with her.  It is only after the new girl has moved again that Chloe realizes she could have been kinder to Maya.  
  • A Home for Bird – A little frog goes to great lengths to help a new friend find a home.

These books are great for starting discussions, but in all honesty, any story will do.  In the words of Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley:

“Reading fiction is and always was practice in empathy — learning to see the world through often quite alien perspectives, learning to understand how other people’s points of view reflect their experiences.”

Wonder stands out because it is the story of someone who is very different and it explores the choices we make when faced with difference, but I believe that fiction can create a kinder world if we let it.

Please, choose kind.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links benefits this blog.  Thank you for your support!

In the spirit of kindness

You may have noticed that posts have slowed down a bit on the blog recently, and it’s likely to stay that way for a while.  I’m getting used to a new work schedule with more hours, and I will have less time to devote to writing in the near future.

I did, however, have time to contribute a post to a great Twin Cities blog about volunteerism and kindness: The Blogunteer.  My post, Don’t Stare, offers tips for people and parents on talking to people with disabilities or other physical differences.  I have more information and answers about my experience with a physical difference on Fake Arm 101.

In the spirit of kindness and volunteerism, here are some books you might share with your kids to talk about behavior and giving back.

I have an upcoming post about kids & manners in which I’m going to talk about The Golden Rule and Do Unto Otters.  I referenced The Cloud Spinner‘s princess in a post last week, but I originally checked the book out of the library for its connection to Earth Day and reduction of consumption.  But Because of You by B.G. Hennessy is probably the “must read” book in this stack on the subject of kindness and social responsibility.

There are more great children’s book recommendations on Doing Good Together‘s Kinder Book Club.

 

What books or experiences have resonated with you or your kids as you have tried to create a sense of social responsibility or kindness in your family?