Too Darn Cute

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Written by R. J. Palacio
Ages 8-12

Auggie Pullman is about to start 5th grade at a new school, his first school, actually. He has been home schooled his whole life because he was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a normal school. But he is a normal kid in every other way. Convincing all the other kids of that, however, will be a challenge. This heartwarming realistic fiction takes a look at how powerful kindness can be and how much we can each learn and grow from our trials.

I really enjoyed this story. It is a quick read but provides a lot of depth. It actually made me really wish I had a class of my own so I could share it with them. It is funny, relatable, and tackles some big issues like bullying and empathy. It is definitely worth a read and, if you are so lucky as to have a class of your own, worth sharing! Here are a few ideas on how to use it:

Read Aloud
My first thought was that this would be an AMAZING read aloud story. It is full of big important lessons that every teacher and parent wants their children to learn. There are lots of great talking points and interesting subjects to discuss with a class. I would especially use this at the beginning of the year when everyone is trying to figure out who they are going to be and how to act around others. Even if everyone has been in the school for years, the beginning of a new school year is a fresh start and everyone feels kind of new. Some things to discuss:

  • Kindness: One of Auggie's teachers challenges the kids, "When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind." I love how the quote emphasizes that kindness is a choice. Each of us is capable of choosing to be kind and each of us deserves to be respected by others. Some of the kids in the story were probably afraid to be kind to Auggie because they didn't know how others would react. But they missed out on all the good things that come from being kind. How are Summer and Julian different? How are Summer and Charlotte different? Choosing to be kind can be more than not being mean. It can be more than just being nice. Let students share experiences when others were kind to them and when they were kind to someone else. What happened? How did they feel? One of my favorite things in my 5th grade class was a spotlight jar where students got to highlight the good deeds they saw happening in the classroom. Fostering an environment of kindness and friendship is so important to helping students grow.
  • Empathy: One of the strengths of this story is that it is told through several different perspectives. Many characters get to speak to us and we learn a lot about each of them through their own words and thoughts. Since we are kind of stuck in our own minds and only see the world through our own eyes, it is helpful to remember that other people see the world differently. They each have their own problems, difficulties, and concerns. Auggie is so wrapped up in his experiences at school that he doesn't always understand why Via is upset. Via sees the changes making Miranda popular but doesn't understand the problems making her so sad. We often don't see the trials people hide but we all have them. Recognizing that everyone has good things and bad things going on in their life might help us choose to be kind a little more often.
  • Bullying: Unfortunately, I don't think bullying will ever go away. It will always be something children (and adults) have to face at some time in some form. Along with kindness and empathy, I believe it would be helpful to discuss how the kids in the story hurt Auggie. Only one time does a bully physically hurt him, but there are many times that he is hurt. How do the kids hurt him with words? How do they hurt him with the things they don't do? What things can your students do to prevent that kind of bullying in their school?

I love that this story is told from the perspective of several different characters. As a reader, I get more than one perspective on events from the school year which is helpful in seeing the whole picture. And it is done very well! Palacio carefully considers the voice of the character narrating and his or her personality certainly shines through the writing. Some of the "background" characters that we might not really get to know get to speak to us in their chapters with their own quirks about their own concerns. Some, like Justin, even use their own teenage, casual, too-cool-for-capitals writing style. I remember our fifth grade class working a lot on the Six Traits of Writing (and I'm sure this starts in the younger grades). Voice can be a tricky one to show because it is kind of abstract. Wonder is a great example of Voice that can really help young students grasp what it means and start thinking about their own voice.

After talking about Voice and how it is used in this novel, I would want my students to practice. As an exercise, ask students to write about a personal experience from someone else's perspective. Preferably, this would be an event or story that they've already written about (possibly in their journal). They will have to think about the other person's personality, feelings, and opinions. How do they talk? What kinds of words do they use? This would be a fun opportunity to buddy up and share the two versions with a partner who can help identify the differences in voice.

Alternatively, ask the students to write a new chapter for Wonder from the perspective of someone else in the story. There are still many characters we don't hear from that would be really interesting to read. A few options would be Auggie's mom, Charlotte, Mr. Tushman, Miles or Henry. There are lots of new perspectives waiting to be explored.

Mr. Tushman (the principal at Auggie's school) knows there is something special about this fifth grade age. He tells them that this moment in their lives moves him, "because you're at the cusp, kids. You're at the edge between childhood and everything that comes after. You're in transition" (p. 299). We need more stories like Wonder to help inspire our children in that transition to be better, to try to understand others, and to choose kindness.

*Bonus! Here's a link to a great article with lots of stories and behind the scenes from Palacio. If you've read the book, you'll especially find it interesting!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sausage and Cabbage Soup

We are a soup family. We love soup! We have soup at least once a week and have recently decided to branch out a bit and try a few new ones. My incredibly lucky husband gets delicious catered lunches at work EVERY day. Every night I ask him (with mouth watering) what he had that day and listen as he tells me about the exotic, fun, and fancy meals he was served that afternoon. Being a SAHM definitely lacks some perks... 

Anyway, one night he told me they had this really good sausage and cabbage soup. I was intrigued because I had never even heard of such a thing and, to be honest, it's probably not something I would normally pick out and want to try. But he raved about this soup! So we just had to try to recreate it. 

I searched online and found a few different recipes and decided to (mostly) follow this one. I like that it seemed pretty simple with lots of yummy veggies. All you have to do is:
  • Cook 1 lb sausage (I just used Jimmy Dean) and drain on separate plate.
  • Heat olive oil in pan and saute 1 cup diced onion and 3 cloves minced garlic with salt and pepper.
  • Add 2-3 diced carrots, 2-3 stalks celery, and 2 potatoes (I didn't use celery root or turnips because, well, I've never actually used them before and this is what I had on hand. Maybe next time?) Cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Add about 1/2 head of thinly sliced green cabbage and cook for about 2 minutes.
  • Return sausage back to the pan and add 8 cups broth, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 tablespoon rosemary, and 1 tablespoon thyme.
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cover, and cook for an hour. Uncover and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. 

I've made this soup twice now and I always forget that you have to cook it forever. If you're starving and can't wait the whole hour, it's still pretty good. It's best to let some of the moisture cook out though. Otherwise it's too brothy. 

You should also know that this makes a LOT of soup. Definitely too much for two people (and a toddler) because we still have some in the fridge even after a week of eating it for leftovers (remember how my husband doesn't have to eat leftovers for lunch anymore? Spoiled). 

I'm so glad we tried this one because it is so good! Flavorful, filling, and loaded with veggies. So why don't you mix things up a bit and try it out this week? Let me know what you think!