Hailey’s favorite book is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. She was introduced to the novel several years ago and found in it a new favorite. Hailey, who was born with a lymphatic malformation and has had several surgeries to remove the tumor from her face, saw herself in Palacio’s character Auggie. She wished to meet the woman who created Auggie and to share the book’s message of kindness with her classmates. On June 3, Palacio spent the day at Burns Park Elementary School, receiving a tour from Hailey, eating lunch with her, joining students at recess in a game of foursquare and participating in an assembly about something she knows and writes a lot about: kindness.
I found the same comfort and wisdom in Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story that Hailey found in Wonder. The novel covered everything from Egyptian dance music to adolescent depression, and though my experiences didn’t match the protagonist’s, Vizzini captured the pressure, angst and joy of being a teenager. Think One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest young adult-style.
I also understand the excitement Hailey must have felt opening her third grade classroom door to find Palacio on the other side. In high school, I was able to interview Vizzini for a column in the school newspaper. We had a few more degrees of separation than Hailey and Palacio, as we were communicating via email – and a surprise! letter that arrived in my mailbox. Yet, his kindness and willingness to participate in an interview with me, a simple high school student, motivated me to pursue a writing career. Perhaps Hailey will find the same strength and confidence after meeting Palacio.
Seeing the smile on Hailey’s face (which was only recently made possible because of a reconstructive surgery) transported me back to the moment I opened that letter from Vizzini. Reader to reader, thank you, Hailey, for sharing your love of Wonder with your classmates and with all of us. You’ve reminded me of the importance of finding yourself in a book and then passing that joy on.