A Wonder-like Book List (AKA Books that Inspire Kindness and Looking Beyond the Outward Appearance)

"I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go."

-August Pullman, from Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Have you read Wonder? In my world, the book is showing up everywhere. My book club read it over the summer. Teachers have been reading it to my kids in school. I often see it displayed prominently in book stores and libraries. And while the extra attention might have something to do with the movie (starring Julie Roberts and Owen Wilson) that is set to release into theaters on November 17th, this book is making an impact for a much better reason:  It's a well told story that inspires kindness. If you or your kids haven’t read it, grab yourselves a copy and dig in!

Here is a quick synopsis:  Wonder is the story of Auggie Pullman, a boy who was born with a facial difference. Because of multiple surgeries and other health related reasons Auggie has been homeschooled, but that is about to change. Auggie’s parents have made the hard decision to send him to a mainstream school for the first time as a 5th grader. 

The book is told through multiple perspectives. We hear from Auggie, his sister, his classmates, even his sister’s boyfriend; the different perspectives give the reader a fuller view of the story, keeps things interesting, and adds depth to the characters we are introduced to.  Auggie's story gives readers a glimpse into what it might feel like to look different, emphasizes that outward appearances do not dictate what a person is really like and shows us that acts of kindness can make a difference. I cried, then cheered, then cried and cheered; all signs of a great book.

Books like Wonder build empathy, compassion and awareness in the hearts of readers. They awaken us to the idea that friends can come in a variety of packages if we are willing to move beyond what someone looks like and take the time to get to know who they actually are. They help us see people who are often overlooked. They can also help anyone who has ever felt different understand they are not alone. 

If you liked this aspect of Wonder, and are looking for titles that might help your young reader walk a bit in another’s shoes, here are a few other books to try:

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt: 

Ally struggles to read and struggles to fit in. She feels dumb and different and is afraid to ask for help, but that changes when a new teacher takes over and sees there is a lot more to Ally than meets the eye. My daughter read this several years ago and loved it. She loved reading about a teacher who took the time to look beyond behavior to really see a student who needed help. 

Reading level: 10 and up

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai:

A novel in verse that shares the story of Ha as her family flees war-torn Vietnam and arrives in Arkansas as refugees. Ha attends school where she doesn’t know the language and looks different from everyone else. A beautiful and well-told story from start to finish. This one will be getting a post of it's own at some point because I loved it so much!

Reading level: 8 and up

El Deafo by Cece Bell: 

A graphic novel that is autobiographical, El Deafo chronicles the tale of a hearing-impaired bunny who starts at a new school wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to her chest. Cece soon discovers that her hearing aid gives her the ability to hear things she’s not meant to hear, knowledge she uses to become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” Being a superhero has its perks, but all Cece really wants is to find a true friend.

Reading level: 8 and up

The 7th Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall: 

The story of Arthur T. Owens (labeled a troubled youth) and a man (known to the neighborhood as the Junk man), how their paths intersect (Arthur throws a brick at the Junk Man and is sentenced to community service under his care), and how this interaction changes Arthur’s life for the better.  It is a story that challenges the reader to look beyond the surface of who a person appears to be (i.e. a Junk Man) or thing might be (i.e. junk) and find the true value that is hidden beneath. 

Reading level: 10 and up

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper:

Eleven year old Melody has severe cerebral palsy and is unable to walk, talk, or write, but her mind is amazing. The only problem is no one in her school knows what is going on inside of Melody until she figures out a way to tell them. Spoiler Alert: This book does not end with all the happy feelings that Wonder does, but it makes an impact. My niece read this book when she was 10. She was outraged by the way Melody was treated and it was one of several books that has inspired her to get involved with and help special needs students in her school. 

Reading level: 10 and up


Books I haven’t read yet, but seem to fit the bill (follow the links to read the descriptions):

  • Ugly by Robert Hoge (a memoir billed as a true-life Wonder) I have not read this, but my son has. He loved reading about a kid who overcame many challenges in his life. He specifically remembered how Robert always wanted to play sports but was unable to and how eventually he was able to find a sport he could participate in. Reading level: 8 and up

  • One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (a story about a girl in foster care) Reading level: 10 and up

  • Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (author of The One and Only Ivan a book I love!) Reading level: 8 and up

  • Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling Reading level: 8 and up

If you have any suggestions to add to this list, please list them in the comments section. I would love to hear your recommendations!