Study Guide

Wonder Themes

  • Family

    In Wonder, Auggie's family is loving, funny, protective, and supportive—and everyone who knows the Pullmans can see what a nurturing and caring family they are. (For contrast, check out what Miranda and Justin say about their families.) But for Auggie to find his place in the world, he has to actually get out there and interact with it, and both his parents and sister push him, at certain points of the story, to leave his comfort zone to make this happen. Through all his struggles along the way, his family is always there to comfort him, to shore him up, to encourage and support him, and to celebrate his victories.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why do Auggie's parents talk him into starting school?
    2. Why does Auggie's dad think this will be like sending a "lamb to the slaughter?"
    3. How is the Pullman family different from the families described by other narrators?
    4. Why does Via get so mad when people stare at Auggie?
    5. Why does Auggie's dad throw away the astronaut helmet?

    Chew on This

    When the going gets tough, the Pullmans start cracking jokes. This family culture gives Auggie—and the reader—some comic relief even when things get really heavy.

    While the Pullman family members are very loving and nurturing, Via still gets short-changed in all sorts of ways. She both accepts and resents this dynamic.

  • Appearances

    Since a person's face is pretty much their primary, uh, interface with the world, appearances are inevitably going to be a big theme in Wonder, a story about a kid with a cranio-facial genetic mutation.

    Most of us are not often confronted with a person whose appearance is dramatically different, and it can be a startling experience, as we see from most people's reactions to Auggie's face. We're right there with Auggie as he describes the surprise, shock, horror, fear, and disgust he sees.

    The web site for the National Foundation for Facial Reconstruction says, "No condition impacts the body and the spirit as equally as facial difference," and August gives readers a glimpse into this experience. He hates his appearance, and desperately wishes he were normal. He hides. He mumbles. He suffers. But he hangs tough, and along the way he learns to hold his head up and be seen for who he is. He learns that he has to accept the way he looks, and that others can too.

    Questions About Appearances

    1. Does Auggie's attitude toward his appearance change throughout the story?
    2. As you read Wonder, do your definitions of ugly versus beautiful change at all?
    3. How about that astronaut helmet? Why does Auggie wear it everywhere?

    Chew on This

    Don't judge a book—or a boy—by its cover.

    Though appearances are superficial, because the impact our lives so significantly, they end up also impacting our personalities.

  • Isolation

    August hasn't had hordes of friends over the course of his life, but he's well-liked by the friends he does have, and warmly loved by his family. So he's not lonely, per se, but he is pretty socially isolated. What isolates August?

    • His busy surgery schedule and general medical fragility when he was little created the necessity of not being exposed to the germ-o-rama of regular school.
    • His appearance.
    • The astronaut helmet that he wears for a couple years. Even though he's still on planet earth, he might as well be in outer space.
    • Did we mention his appearance?

    August likes the idea of going to school and having friends, but not at the cost of being the lightning rod for every stare ever. But the thing is that he doesn't have that many people to interact with otherwise.

    Ironically, it is when August is surrounded by kids his own age that he becomes most isolated. Kids are so freaked out by his face that they cannot bring themselves to overlook it. They pack up together, formalizing their aversion with a "game" in which anybody that touches August risks The Plague.

    But even though Auggie is socially isolated at school, he's wholly loved and supported at home—unlike Justin and Miranda, who both describe painful emotional isolation within their families. In Wonder, isolation doesn't always lurk where you expect it to.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Are there ways in which August tries to preserve his isolation? Why would he do that?
    2. Why do the fifth grade kids go out of their way to avoid any contact, even accidental, with Auggie?
    3. Which do you think is more difficult: being socially isolated like Auggie is, or being emotionally isolated from people in your family like Miranda and Justin are?
    4. Is Auggie more isolated before he starts school, or once he's actually part of a community?

    Chew on This

    To protect himself from rejection, August has developed a lot of coping strategies that protect him, but also contribute to his isolation.

    Misunderstanding is the root of isolation in Wonder.

  • Friendship

    Auggie's friendships with Summer and Jack save him from total isolation and misery at school, but each friendship comes about differently and follows a different trajectory. Being Auggie's friend is easy because Auggie is a fun, nice kid, but it's also hard because there are social penalties for hanging out with the kid who is not like the others.

    Both Summer and Jack are regularly challenged by their peers over their friendship with August in Wonder. But while Summer consistently and reflexively defends Auggie, Jack takes longer to learn the value of his friendship with Auggie. He reaps all the benefits of having a good friend, but makes none of the sacrifices, at one point even denying the friendship.

    But Jack isn't a total jerk. When he realizes how deeply his thoughtless words have hurt August, he asks for Auggie's forgiveness and re-evaluates his priorities. Through the process of rebuilding that relationship, Jack learns the meaning of true friendship.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Why does Summer sit with Auggie on the first day of school?
    2. What kind of a friend is Auggie? How does he support his friends? How do Auggie's friends support him?
    3. Are kids in the popular crowd happier than the kids who aren't in the popular crowd? What's the difference between friendship and popularity?

    Chew on This

    Mr. Tushman's efforts to secure some friends for Auggie are pointless. Only one out of three kids really becomes Auggie's friend, and another one out of the three becomes his relentless bully. Auggie would have been better off without Mr. Tushman's help.

    Jack's priorities change over the course of his friendship with Auggie; Summer's do not.

  • Kindness

    Wonder is a love song to simple, basic kindness. It takes so little kindness to make such a big difference. Kindness can be like a domino, with a single act toppling into another until a new friendship forms, knocking down isolation, sadness, and suffering as it grows.

    But you don't have to take our word for it. Mr. Tushman himself breaks it down quite nicely:

    If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary—the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God. (8.A Simple Thing.23)

    Questions About Kindness

    1. Summer is kind to Auggie when she sits with him the first day of school, saving him from total isolation. Jack thinks she is really brave to have sat down with Auggie on that first day of school, since no one had even asked her to, but Summer thinks it's "not a biggie." Does it take courage to choose to be kind?
    2. Does anyone in Wonder suffer from choosing to be kind to Auggie?
    3. Why is kindness so widely promoted as an antidote to bullying?
    4. What do you think is the kindest thing any character in Wonder does?

    Chew on This

    Charlotte is nice. Summer is kind. Kindness is more than just being nice.

    It is harder to be kind than to be mean because kindness requires vulnerability.

  • Courage

    There are various shades of courage in Wonder:

    • The courage to attempt something terrifying.
    • The courage of taking a risk and going against the grain
    • The courage of persevering, even when doing so is excruciating.

    Terrifying: August going to middle school.

    Risky: Having lunch with a kid who looks like August even though your friends don't want you to.

    Persevering: Going to school day in and day out even though almost no one talks to you, or is even allowed to accidentally bump into you without catching the plague.

    Terrifying: seeing your infant for the first time who has been born with such serious birth defects that he is not even expected to survive.

    Risky: Agreeing to befriend the new kid at school before you've met him.

    Persevering: Going back to school after the person you think is your best friend claims you're just a pesky tag-along.

    Yup—courage abounds in this book.

    Questions About Courage

    1. Who is the most courageous character in Wonder, in your opinion, and why?
    2. How is Auggie's courage different from Summer's?
    3. In what ways does Jack's courage evolve throughout the story?

    Chew on This

    Some situations call for very public acts of courage, while others require people to reach deep into their hearts to draw upon the courage of their character. In Wonder, both appear.

    Jack thinks he's terrifically brave to become friends with Auggie, but he's too scared to commit this nugget to paper. Auggie, on the other hand, never describes anything he does as particularly courageous, and yet it must take bucket-loads of courage for him to face the world every single day.

  • Coming of Age

    "Arriving at Adolescence" might be a slightly more apt description of this particular theme, since the kids in Auggie's class at Beecher Prep are only around ten and eleven years old. But even though they aren't exactly nearing adulthood (which is what we'd expect for "Coming of Age"), they are in a major transition from childhood to adolescence. And it's a perfectly tumultuous time in its own right. (Not to be overlooked, Via and her friends in high school are all dealing with painful growing up stuff, too.)

    In Wonder, what we're treating as a coming-of-age-type feat is Auggie's transition from the very warm, sheltered cocoon of his family to, well, the merciless halls of middle school. Will Auggie survive, or will he a doomed lamb to the slaughter?

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. In what ways does Auggie grow up as the school year unfolds?
    2. How does Auggie and Via's relationship change over the course of the story?
    3. Which things do not change for August, and do those things demonstrate immaturity or maturity?
    4. How do Mr. Browne's precepts tie in with the theme of Coming of Age?

    Chew on This

    Kids in Wonder make changes on the outside that help them express inner change to the world.

    Auggie's Star Wars obsession signifies his childhood tendency to live in a fantasy world rather than the real one. When he cuts off his Padawan braid, it is a statement that he's leaving one world and entering another.

  • Principles

    Principle: A moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions.

    What does it take to live a principled life? Self-knowledge? Courage? Maturity? Discipline? It all depends on what principles you're trying to live by.

    In Wonder,as the kids in fifth grade at Beecher Prep have their world rocked by the appearance of August Pullman, how are their individual principles challenged or reinforced?

    Summer is the poster child for the principles of kindness and loyalty. Julian is inexplicably and consistently hostile. Because of people like Julian, Jack knows he has to help Auggie, and he does—but he holds back. Worried about his social status, Jack sits on the fence regarding his friendship with Auggie until it's almost too late to save the friendship at all.

    Meanwhile Auggie's sister Via and her former bestie Miranda find themselves alienated from each other as high school begins. Via's remained true to herself, but Miranda has taken a hiatus from who she has been to explore not only other principles, but also other identities.

    No matter where you turn in this book, principles are in the mix.

    Questions About Principles

    1. Do you think Mr. Browne devotes so much time to teaching and talking about principles every year? Is he giving the subject extra time because of August's presence?
    2. What kinds of things can challenge a person's principles? What strengthens people's principles?
    3. What would you identify as Jack's strongest principle? What about his weakest? Do either of those change?

    Chew on This

    It's safer to hang with the herd than to stand up for one's principles, but ultimately it is a lot more rewarding to take risks on doing what you know is right.

    A person's principles are the foundation of their identity.

  • Identity

    The Who sum up the question best with "Who Are You?"—and they really want to know. So do we.

    • Are you the same person you are at home as you are at school?
    • Are you different as a teenager than you were as a little kid? What's changed?
    • Are there things only your family knows about you?
    • What do you wish more people knew about you?
    • What aspects of your identity do you broadcast to the world?

    Identity is always a big deal in coming-of-age stories, and Wonder is no exception. As August starts middle school, he has to figure out how to bridge the gap between what kind of person he feels like (ordinary), and what kind of person the world sees him as (anything but ordinary). How will he convince the world to see beyond his face?

    Questions About Identity

    1. How has Auggie defined himself in younger years, and how does this change as he becomes a regular school kid?
    2. What role do masks play in the concealing and revealing of identity?
    3. Which aspects of his identity are most important to Auggie? Which elements can he create (or destroy), and which things are unchangeable?
    4. What aspects of her identity does Via struggle with throughout Wonder? How about Miranda?

    Chew on This

    Auggie has to figure out how to be simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary.

    All the adolescent characters in Wonder are honing their identities, but Summer is the farthest along in the process.

  • Suffering

    That after twenty-seven surgeries Auggie can still be an upbeat kid who likes to ride his bike and skateboard makes him kind of a wonder.

    That he still bothers to interact with people after ten years of being stared at, gasped over, whispered about, pointed to, and screamed at also makes him kind of a wonder.

    And that he wins over the sympathy, loyalty, and friendship of all but one kid in the fifth grade definitely makes him a wonder.

    As much as Auggie survives—even triumphs—in Wonder, he suffers too. He is treated like a freak by strangers, shunned by his classmates, betrayed by his best friend, and made to suffer a lifetime of his dad's cornball humor. (That last one he's okay with.) He wishes for and laments the normal life he has never had and never will have, and he struggles to keep his dignity and self-esteem through all the shocked reactions. But man, he does not give up—no matter how much he suffers.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. How does Auggie handle his sadness and his suffering?
    2. Describe how Via suffers as the sibling of a kid like Auggie.
    3. What does Auggie learn through his suffering? What does Via learn? How about Jack? Miranda?

    Chew on This

    What hurts Auggie the most isn't the Plague game, or the ignoring, or the staring—it is his friend Jack's betrayal.

    Family, friends, kindness, and principles can all help us not only endure, but also overcome suffering.