Wonderstruck Post-Thoughts, Feelings, Classroom Connections Due on 3/29

Wonderstruck captured my curiosity.  I found myself turning page after page to try and relate Rose and Ben.  I wanted to see how the two were connected, waiting for them to meet up at multiple points throughout the story, only to see the connection in part three! The reader meets a young Rose, in search of her mother in the big city of New York, who is an actress.  Her mother does not visit often, and turns Rose away when she finds her on stage, practicing for her next production.  We also meet Ben, a recently orphaned boy who is left partially deaf in one ear due to a lighting strike.  Ben is on the lookout for his father, who is thought to be in New York City as well.  As both young people journey along, they meet up in the New York American Museum of Natural History.  Both experience the museum in similar but different ways.  Rose searches alone for her answers while Ben finds himself alone, but befriends Jamie.  Jamie knows the ropes around the museum, introducing Ben to secret rooms that capture piece of secrets that are looming ahead of him as he searches for his father.  Ben’s search is re-routed as he falls into the arms of an elderly woman named Rose and her brother Walter at Kincaid’s Bookstore.  Here, Ben learns more of his mother, his father and his grandmother, Rose.  As the story progresses, the reader learns that Rose’s experiences are parallel to Ben’s because she did similar searching as a young, deaf child.  She finds solace in her brother, Walter, and ends up in New York away from her son, Ben’s father, Danny.  Ben’s father, Danny, does research work in Minnesota for the American Museum of Natural History.  He meets Ben’s mother, Elaine, and falls in love.  However, Elaine is not interested in marriage, but, from this relationship, Ben is born.  The plots are happening at different times in history, but are connected in mysterious ways.  At one point in the story, Rose lays a piece of paper on top of a meteorite in the museum, making a wish on a “shooting star” and Ben finds a piece of paper from the same location, only years later that reads “What’s inside the box?”  Selznick keeps the reader guessing so that connections seem made at the right time, but don’t quite add up as it appears!

 In comparison to other texts that I have read in the past, Wonderstruck was much different.  As I am sure most unknowingly readers of Selznick’s novels, Wonderstruck is composed of both words and pictures.  It’s overwhelming size is not to be taken without a grain of salt!  Although there are a good amount of original illustrations, there are ravishing words to be read as well. “Typical” children’s books include chapters with text and illustrations that complement each other simultaneously, telling one plot line.  Selznick’s Wonderstruck includes both text and illustrations, and tells a story that seems to be simultaneous, but once the reader embarks, realizes that it’s not as clear as you may first suspect! I do have to say that the illustrations are hauntingly detailed.  Each character has special features that capture his/her true personality.  I imagine that Selznick must include such detail since there aren’t necessarily words to back up every detail of his characters. Wonderstruck addresses issues about families, death, and being lost, just like other works of children’s literature.  It provides impeccable descriptions of the New York City and the American Museum of Natural History. It provides illustrations that capture the delicate details of the New York City Panorama from Queen’s Museum of Art.   It focuses on loss of family and the gain of friendship.  It addresses the thoughts of those who are deaf, and the challenges that deaf and hard of hearing people face.  Wonderstruck connects characters and character traits over time.  It keeps the reader flipping back to selections of text and illustrations to try and solve the mystery of the young girl and young boy named Ben.  As suggested by Publisher’s Weekly, “A true masterpiece”. 

I read this story in two different settings. I finished Part One about a week before reading Parts Two and Three.  As I picked back up with Part Two, I found myself having to flip back to connect parts One and Two, just to make sure I hadn’t left out any details!  As I reflect now, I found it easier to remember portions of Part One in text context rather than in illustrations.  I wonder if this is a condition that I have trained myself to be since I am a reader of majority text, as opposed illustrations?  Nevertheless, I was able to shake my memory, and continued with the rest of the novel.  Overall, I think I spent about three hours total reading the entire novel.  I found once I got into the groove of the novel, switching from illustrations to text, that I got comfortable with the format, which made reading easier.  I noticed as Ben’s text would shorten, Selznick would immediately change to illustrations for Rose.  This was a nice way for me to know that the plots were about to change, and to get ready to start my connection process again!  The mood of Wonderstruck was somber overall.   As a reader, I felt the frustration in Ben when he lost his hearing, knowing that life would be tough to communicate with those who looked after him.  I also sympathized with Ben’s missing his father.  Recently in my life, my mother went on a hiatus, leaving me feeling lonely and abandoned for a period of time, which can pull the rug of joy right out from underneath a child.  Even at my age, I can relate to Ben’s thoughts of abandonment from where his father might be, wondering why he was never contacted by him.  I think that this issue speaks volumes to both kids and adults, which can draw in multiple readers.  At the end of Wonderstruck, Ben realizes that both his mother and father are gone, but he gets insight on their lives.  The reader is left to believe that Ben will start a new life with his grandmother and great-uncle Walter in New York City.

Wonderstruck in the classroom would be a great read aloud or a novel for a guided reading group.  Read aloud would be useful for lower leveled readers, because this type of reading does take some “training” since it is not the “typical” plot line.  I have an AG student who asked to borrow my copy and had it read in three days, whereas I am sure I will have others who will request and it will take a couple of weeks.  Wonderstruck’s themes serve as spring boards for classroom studies outside of the story.  Students may enjoy studying about sign language, since both Rose and Ben are deaf.  When creating my Glogster, I linked the American Sign Language Wikipedia site so that students may visit for more details.  I teach in a school with a hearing impaired program, and I imagine these teachers could use Wonderstruck in their classrooms to capture the essence of deafness of mainstream individuals and provide support for their disabled students.  I like that Wonderstruck provides students with details in illustrations.  This could be a topic starter for providing ample detail in descriptions in writing so that students may visualize characters clearly. I also found myself making active predictions with Wonderstruck.  The illustrations make it easy to think about what might happen next in Rose’s story, and in the events that Rose and Ben will meet at some point. provides students with the opportunity to take a virtual field trip through the American Museum of Natural History.  Since majority of us will probably never get to visit such a place, the next best thing would be to visit this virtual tour.  As I read this story, I couldn’t help but continue to think about the recent films, Night in the Museum, and Night in the Museum II.  (Night at the Museum) (Night at the Museum II: Battle of the Smithsonian) These films are intended for younger audiences, so I imagine some readers might have a bit of background knowledge about museums from viewing these films.  I also kept thinking about From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg.  In this story two young students spend nights in a museum, enjoying the sights and sounds of the museum at night.  All of these resources would be great ways for students to relate their understanding of Wonderstruck to background knowledge.

If I were to introduce this book to my classroom, I would share my Glogster, and have my students interact with each other in silent ways. I would ask them to imagine being deaf, and having them think about functioning in life without hearing.  We would discuss sign language, again because there are students that are in our school who are hearing impaired.  I would want them to imagine what life would be like for both Rose and Ben before we got into the thick plot of the two stories.  I think I would also provide students with exposure to picture books.  At the age that I teach, majority of my kiddos tend to use text only novels.  We would discuss using illustrations to predict feelings of characters and their actions.  This would be helpful to do ahead of time, because there are so many of these photos in Wonderstruck. 

Initially, I thought that this book would be an interesting read.  I had previously heard of Brian Selznick before, so I knew that I would be introduced to a new type of reading.  I didn’t think that I would see as much as I did in the illustrations.  I also thought that I would be able to predict the story line easily with the illustrations, but that was not always true either!  I thought throughout the entire story that Rose and Ben would meet up as children, not as family members at the end!  I knew that selections that are chosen for my graduate classes are meant to challenge me as teacher, and are meant to be used in the classroom and to provoke a different type of thinking.  I hadn’t anticipated that this type of literature would rope me in like it did.  Beyond my personal connection with Ben and his missing parents, I found elements of adventure,   tragedy and friendship.  At the end of Wonderstruck, I am glad that I spent time reading.  I plan to read again this summer, so that I may use this as a read aloud next year with my students.  Until then, I have three students who are lined up ready to read!

 Renee Hennings 3/24/12

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  1. Hey Renee,
    I liked your Glogster! I think that you did a great job of summarizing with this cool tool! I think that this would be a good way to introduce this book to your students and when they finish reading it they can make their own Glogster! Keep up the good work my friend!!
    Elizabeth A

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 2 months ago

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