by Leonard Gill
Literacy Mid-South's 2013 "Book of Choice" for Read Across America is Wonder (Knopf Books for Young Readers) by R.J. Palacio. It's a novel about a fifth-grader coming to terms with a facial deformity. But it's a story about how that boy's family, his classmates, and the larger community come to terms with it as well.
The book, published a year ago, is plenty special. It's for readers 8 and up (that includes adults), and it's been praised by every name in the book, including The New York Times, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, the Huffington Post, Slate, The Wall Street Journal, and Entertainment Weekly. Literacy Mid-South is on board too. Executive director Kevin Dean and his staff have chosen Wonder for its lesson in kindness and its call against bullying.
"We’re very excited about Read Across America Month," Dean wrote recently in an email. "This is Literacy Mid-South’s first all-ages, citywide reading campaign, and Wonder is the perfect book. I read it, shared it with my mother, who shared it with our family and her co-workers.
"Wonder is one of those books that people will be talking about. It’s uplifting, an easy read, and instills values that need to be reinforced in our youth and our families."
To close out the month of Wonder, though, you'll have to head into April. That's when, on April 2nd, Literacy Mid-South has organized an evening at Rhodes College, beginning at 6 p.m. in Buckman Hall. Author R.J. Palacio will be there via Skype. Wendi Thomas, Commercial Appeal columnist and founder of Common Ground, will make a presentation. So too: native Memphian and filmmaker Jasmine Gray, whose documentary-in-the-making, More Than Skin Deep, concerns her own and others' facial abnormalities. A screening of the 2011 documentary Bully will close out the evening.
The event at Rhodes is free, but tickets are required and seating is limited. Go to Literacy Mid-South's website soon for those tickets. And while you're at it and throughout the month of March, tell Memphis what you're reading on Twitter (#ReadMemphis or @LiteracyMSouth). You could be the winner of an Amazon Kindle Fire.
Questions about any or all of the above, go to literacymidsouth.org or call 327-6000.