Posted by: Elizabeth Grochan | March 29, 2012

Wonderstruck

I admit that even though I hadn’t read this book prior to class, I had picked it up at a book store intrigued by the cover and flipped through it, so I already knew what I was getting into. At the time I did not purchase it because I was looking for a ‘me’ read not a classroom read. While I found the art beautiful, it didn’t seem like a book an ‘adult’ would read.

I am very glad I did get the chance to read it though because it was a uniquely wonderful experience.

Overall, it took me about 2 hours to read. After I finished, I went back and took more time with the pictures. The fact that Selznick is able to create a story only using pictures is astounding to me. I can fully understand what is going on as if I was reading words. You can read the characters’ facial expressions, see clues in the art, and there is a flow between pictures that keeps the story going. Some pictures illustrated a large area, some on a specific person, others were close ups showing only a part of someone or something. You would often see pictures of just the characters eyes to show various emotions, or just the hands to highlight what they were holding or doing. I liked how on some pages, you would see a larger picture, and as you flipped, the pages narrowed in on a specific part. An example of this is towards the beginning of the story, the doctor is knocking on the door. You at first see the man walk up to the door, a closer picture shows him at the door fist poised for knocking, then the next page shows only his fist. You truly develop a sense of what the author is conveying in each picture.

The art truly is wondrous, and the way Selznick interweaves 2 stories, from 2 different times is amazing. I enjoyed how sometimes we would see the characters doing similar things, just in their own time. How slowly both characters find their way to the museum, and how Ben’s clues to find his father leads him to finding Rose.

So much of the story is about two people who are different and feel as if they don’t belong. They are looking for a place or another person who understands them. We see the coming together of these two characters as the story unfolds. While these 2 characters are central, I also liked how the character of Jamie also felt lost and alone, yet finds a friendship with Ben.

The story unwinds like a mystery. The reader wonders how these two characters can be connected, and we follow along with Ben as he looks for clues to finding his father. How interesting that two people can find themselves across time and place in the way that Rose and Ben do, not even knowing the other was looking.

I have read many many many different books over the years, yet had never seen a book like this. I had even brought it with me to work to begin my write up, and 2 of my coworkers (both solid readers) said the same thing. At first I pretended that ‘yep! This is children’s book, look how big it is, crazy huh?’? I than opened it to reveal the pages of artwork. These 2 men flipped through the book with me while we admired the art, and I told the quick summary of how the print and pictures work together to tell a story about two worlds, that become one.

I have always been very fascinated by the Deaf culture. At a young age I read about Helen Keller which may have been what interested me to learn more. I have always found sign language to be such a beautiful artistic art form. How the hands move to tell a story is just amazing to me. A goal of mine is to one day be fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). As of now, I know how to fingerspell, say a few words and sentences, and I know a few songs that I have learned over the years. One of those songs is ‘It’s a Small World’ which I have taught in many classrooms and that students love to learn.

Because I enjoy learning about the Deaf Culture and sign language, I am often intrigued by movies and TV shows which feature deaf characters. For many years I use to watch a show called Sue Thomas F.B. Eye. The show was based on the true story of a woman who was deaf and joined the FBI for her skills such as being able to read lips for surveillance. I currently am really into the show on ABC Family, Switched at Birth. Switched at Birth is a show about 2 teenagers, whose lives are turned upside down when the realize they were switched. One of the girls is deaf, so we see how her new family adjust to her world, as she sometimes struggles to fit into theirs. Daphne attends a School for the Deaf, and her best friend is also deaf so we see interaction between hearing people, deaf and hearing people, and just deaf people. This is a GREAT clip of the show that talks about the inspiration of the show, as well as the integration of the deaf culture into the show. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxWB5YFdZak

What I love about shows like these, is you have people who are the same as you and me, they just happen to be deaf. In addition to regular plotlines, these shows also highlight the Deaf Community and Deaf Culture. Hearing people rarely get to see what life is like for the deaf, so I like that shows like these provide a little insight. Not only do you see some of the difficulties we may take for granted, just as dangers of not hearing something coming at you, the communication frustrations and the inability of some people to accept differences, you also a culture few people are aware of. Most deaf people do not see deafness as a disability; instead they see themselves as part of a culture.

Ben Spelling Friend ~ This is the letter R

Ben Spelling Friend ~ This is the letter R

I think the story being told about 2 characters, who just happen to be deaf, is one of the things I enjoyed most about the story. On page 591, when Ben is telling Rose who Jamie is, I absolutely love how Selznick uses the next pages to show Ben fingerspelling (something Jamie taught him) to spell out M-Y F-R-I-E-N-D. Each letter in on a separate page, and flipping to each page as the words were spelling out was one of my favorite parts of the story. I loved how with each page more of the word was slowly revealed. I also love that I knew what the signs were, so didn’t need to be told what it was Ben had signed.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read many books about the deaf and deaf culture. One book that does stand out in my mind is T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte. Using lyrical prose, the story is about a deaf girl during WW2 having to run to stay safe in fear of being taken to T4, a place the Nazis brought (and usually killed) people with disabilities. I also use to read many books about Helen Keller as well as stories feature Alexander Graham Bell (who has many ties to the deaf community). I also have a few ASL, American Sign Language Books, students could look through. I also did some research on other books that could possibly be included if I was teaching this in the classroom and found this site. http://www.gallaudet.edu/clerc_center/Information_and_Resources/Info_to_Go/Resources/Deaf_Culture/Books_for_Young_Readers.html

I am not sure on the quality of the books, but many look good enough to at least be checkout out. While teaching using Wonderstruck, I would like to have many fiction and nonfiction books displayed around the classroom teaching about deafness and the Deaf culture.

I think if I was going to introduce this book to my class, I would introduce it using the deaf aspect of the story. I would create a book trailer similar to this one:

http://www.scholastic.com/wonderstruck/  (which is also a good intro for kids also).

My trailer would be made using no sound. It would play using images from the book, as well as pictures I found on the internet that fit with the story. Instead of sound, words would come up to tell the story when needed. To introduce the book, I would come up to the front of the class, and only using gestures and ‘signs’ tell them no talking and to just watch, hold up the book, and begin the trailer. If possible I would like to create the trailer to look like a silent film in a way.

I think the idea of using silence to introduce a book about 2 deaf children would help students connect with Rose and Ben. I may or may not follow up the video by having the students make predictions, share their thoughts, ask questions, all while I do not say a word, and they have to figure out what I am saying through hand signals, pointing, mouth moving and some writing. Try to give them an idea of what Rose and Ben go through trying to communicating with others.

Another idea to introduce the students would be to create a WonderBox from the book and have them go through it prior to reading the book. They can make predictions about the characters and the story. As we go through the story, they can see what the objects mean and why they were chosen. Since there are two characters, I would probably make 2 boxes with different objects, yet sharing a similar object or two to show the connection made towards the end. The class would be split into 2 groups and go through the Wonders, and then discuss their discoveries. This would be a good way to model a possible Reading Response for one of their independent books, or even a hint at a final project with this book where they would create a Wonderbox of their own.

As for introducing the book itself, I think it would be cool to leave the book on my desk for about the week and see the kind of reception this ‘large book’ received as students walk by. They may believe it is a book I am in fact reading. When I am ready to introduce the book, I would at first show just the cover, let them see the size where I am sure they would show surprise or make objections at first. I would than show a few select pages of the beautiful artwork. Prior to this point, we would have addressed the graphic novel genre. We would discuss how this book is similar in that it using words AND pictures to tell the story. I would select a few pictures to share with the class, showing one picture at a time on an ELMO or document projector. I would  have students make observations and try to ‘read’ the picture for clues.

For instance based on the image at the right, what can they tell me? Obviously this is a girl, which we would identify as the heroine of the story. What can they tell me about what she is feeling? How do they know? Without words, students are going to have to use images to understand the story. Selznick does an amazing job bringing a story to life using illustrations, and I want to make sure my students are going to take the time to look at each picture, and not just flip through to finish the book quickly. I think taking time to look at a few images and having them analyze them will help them appreciate the whole story.

I believe that students would really enjoy this book. For one, the intimidating size becomes far less so as you begin reading and realize most of the story is told using pictures. Even though it is far easier to read than first thought, I think kids would find a sense of accomplishment at finishing such a daunting looking book. Kids these days (ok me too) love reading graphic novels. The text and pictures used together makes a story more interesting for many of them. Where I find many adults struggling to read and enjoy graphic novels, kids usually have no problem following along and enjoying them. I think they would appreciate the way the art in this book tells a story, and enjoy the break or reading words some also.

I think the use of pictures will engage students in higher order thinking. You have to look at the pictures and develop the story based only on what you see. It is through the pictures where you discover Rose’s story. If you don’t pay attention, you may miss out on out on what she is doing, her motivation, and what brings her to the museum. It is her journey that is essential to Ben’s journey, even if you don’t know that until the end.

A book like this is good for struggling readers. They can enjoy a story, and not have to worry about the print all of the time. The break in between reading the words of Ben’s story, with the illustrations of Rose’s would be a nice change and I believe keep the reader engaged.

I think a book like this can be read in a multitude of ways, and students of many different ages and reading levels. It can be an independent read where the reader can flip through and appreciate the book on their own, as a small group read, and as a class read. I would make sure every student had their own copy because I think the best way to enjoy these pictures isn’t on a projector or from a distance, but close up, right in your hands. Where you can run your fingers across the paper. The printed areas I think would be ok to read as a group, or as a read aloud, but I would want the students to read the illustrated areas alone at first, than we can come back together as a group to share and discuss.

My parents being from Brooklyn, I have been to New York many times, so I personally love the illustrations of Rose taking the ferry in and seeing the skyline of what it looked like almost 100 years ago. I have also been to the museum, although it has been many years, so I could understand that feeling of walking up the steps of this majestic building, and seeing the displays and wonders inside.

Students are often fascinated my facts, museums and history. I think they will enjoy the journey to our characters take to the Natural Museum of Natural History. Even if they personally have not visited, the movie a few years ago with Ben Stiller, ‘Night at the Museum’ is something many of them have seen, and I would consider showing clips so they get an idea of what the museum looks like now. We could also visit the website and take virtual tours.

The panorama of the city is another thing I found interesting. I think it would be a neat project to have students create a panorama of something that is important to the, and maybe even hide things that are important to them in the panorama just as Rose does. We could also discuss creating a time capsule of sorts that we could fill with our own wonders that we could hide for someone to discover one day.

This book has so many components to it that students and teachers can embrace. What people can relate to, whether the illustrations, the locations, the museums, the wonders, the feeling of not belonging, the death of loved ones, finding someone to connect to, things that are important to you, being different…there are just so many things. As a teacher, I could use a book like this for so many different kinds of spring boards for instruction.

This is truly a unique and wondrous book that I feel will be appealing and enjoyed by students (across ages and reading levels) and teachers alike. A story that brings 2 worlds together, and gives the characters and the readers a sense of belonging.

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Responses

  1. You have so many wonderful thoughts and connections to this book! You were able to use so many factors to tie together pieces of your personal life ~ I am fascinated. Although I have been impressed by each of the articles you have written. They are always so thorough and captivating with beautiful pictures inserted at just the right places! I liked the idea of leaving the book just lying on your desk and letting your students “just ponder” it for awhile. I think it would raise a lot of questions ~ not only the cover; but the width or spaciousness of it! I hope you get your chance to try this when you get your classroom, and you will soon!


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