No pretense, let’s get started!
The Giver by Lois Lowry (reread)
I think that most people my age had to read this book in middle school. I was not one of those people. I didn’t read this book for the first time until I was in college, for a Children’s Literature class. I immediately loved it, always having been a Lois Lowry fan (Number the Stars anybody?).
For the uninitiated, The Giver is, essentially, the “original” young adult dystopian novel. I know they’re all the rage now, but at the time, this book was unusual. The book has a fairly simple premise, but is revealed in such a layered manner.
The society in the story is presented as a utopia, where “sameness” is promoted, jobs are assigned at age twelve, and privacy is nonexistent. Without giving too much away, the protagonist of the story, Jonas, is given an assignment that is rare and unexpected at his Twelve Year Ceremony. The book follows his journey, with the ending paving the way for future returns to the world created by Lowry.
I think this book is important as a discussion piece for the way The Society is portrayed. Children are able to use critical thinking skills to decide whether or not they think The Society really was successful in creating a “perfect” society.
**The best part of The Giver is that it doesn’t end with this book! Lois Lowry wrote three “companion” novels: Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son. I flew through this quartet starting during Christmas break and finishing up sometime in January. While the first two books seem to have no ties, by the time you read Son, it will be obvious how everything is intertwined. I also enjoyed that two of the books had female protagonists, which was another foreshadowing of the current dystopian craze. I really can’t say enough good things about this group of books!
THE VERDICT: I would have been shocked if this book wasn’t included in the list. Although deceiving in its simplicity and readability, the story stays with you forever.
Wonder by RJ Palacio (new read)
I must admit, I didn’t know much about this book when I first selected it, other than the striking cover, and the fact that some of my teacher friends were using it in their classrooms. It is one of the newer selections on the list, as it was published in 2012.
As I started the book, I didn’t really see anything that special. Early on, there was a chapter devoted to August’s birth, complete with an entire episode of a farting nurse, and, a not too much later, a section about an administrator named Mr. Tushman. I started to write it off as a book trying too hard to appeal to an elementary male demographic. Thankfully, those pages ended up being anomalies.
To put it succinctly, this book gave me “all the feels.” It is about a 10 year old boy, named August, who has severe facial abnormalities. After being homeschooled for his whole childhood, he has now enrolled in school for the first time. As you can imagine, his experience is quite the rollercoaster, with pages making me laugh and cry, grin and cringe, sometimes all at the same time. By the end of the book, tears were streaming down my face, and the message here is strong and authentic, without being forced.
The majority of the book is told from August’s point of view, but the author also includes five other narrators, for various amounts of time, to flesh out the story. Never has a book with that many points of view been so easy to follow!
I also enjoyed the various literary references that were included in different ways throughout the story. Readers were connected to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, introduced to plays such as Our Town and The Elephant Man, and made aware of classics such as War and Peace and The Hobbit. With each character switch, song lyrics and quotes were used to convey their point of view. The English teacher introduces a precept each month and students are immersed in the power of language (which comes full circle later on).
I strongly think this book should be read by any student in fifth through eighth grade. The lessons they could learn from August and the characters that surround him are invaluable. In doing some research after reading, I discovered the author had started a website called “Choose Kind.” It is full of next steps for kids to take after reading this book and doing some self-reflection. I applaud Palacio for realizing the impact her book would have and helping it continue long after the reading is over.
**If you read and enjoy this book, you might be interested to know that there are two e-books written as companions to this book. One, called The Julian Chapter, tells the story from the “bully’s” point of view. I read it immediately after finishing Wonder and found it to be a wonderful complement to the book. The other is called Pluto and tells the story of August as a younger child. I look forward to reading that one as well.
THE VERDICT: I see the value in including this in the 100 List, as it has a strong voice and a high impact on its intended audience.