As August begins school, he comes into contact for the first time with professional teachers and with parents other than his own and those of his long-term childhood friends. Through August's observations of these adults, the novel interrogates both how adolescents view adult presences in their lives, as well as what role adults should play in the lives of their children and students. Ultimately, Wonder proposes that parents and teachers have a great deal of responsibility to guide children through life, while also suggesting that they have an enormous amount of power to affect how and how easily their children grow up.
August's vacillation between childishness and teenage angst certainly doesn't happen without anxiety or difficulty, but it's important to recognize that the support shown to him by his parents allows him to experiment with growing up or acting childish with relatively few consequences. In short, if August is feeling lonely and desires cuddles or affirmation from either parent, they're always there to give that to him—and they're similarly ready and willing to give him space and more adult treatment, as when Mom agrees to buy him a plain duffel bag to replace his "childish" Star Wars one for the camping trip. Other children, however, don't have nearly this degree of parental involvement or support. Most of August and Via's friends note feeling happier, safer, or more at home in the presence of August's mom and dad than they do with their own parents. This in turn corresponds with those characters not having such a safe space in their own homes in which to experiment with their emotions or their desires. This is particularly true in the case of Miranda, whose parents are in the middle of a nasty divorce. She even takes the opportunity at summer camp to pretend that August is her brother and to talk about August and Via's parents as though they're her own. She does this so that she can begin to invent the kind of care and support that she doesn't have in her actual life, reinforcing clearly that, even as adolescents naturally draw away from their parents, they overwhelmingly still need a stable, guiding, adult force in their lives.
While August's parents are written as being representative of good, supportive, and protective parents, Wonder also briefly explores the consequences of having "bad" parents, most notably in the case of Julian. Though August never meets Julian's parents, one chapter consisting of parents' emails with Mr. Tushman exposes Julian's parents to be narrow-minded, self-important people: they insist that it's "too much to ask" to expect students at Beecher Prep to have to be in class with August, and they make the case that August shouldn't even be allowed to attend Beecher Prep, as "it's not an inclusion school." This demonstrates a shocking and horrific fear of difference, which then shows up in how Julian treats August. Julian is rude, cruel, and does whatever he can to make August feel unwelcome—behaviors the novel suggests he learned from his parents. Further, because Julian never seems to improve in this regard even as he attends school with teachers who are overwhelmingly kind and welcoming to August, it also indicates that teachers have comparatively less power to influence their students' core values, and even less power when those core values are espoused by their students' parents.
Especially because the novel overwhelmingly portrays children as being much like their parents, Wonder paints parents as having an immense amount of influence on what kind of people their children become. In this way, the novel stands as a testament to the power of what can happen when parents and teachers model kindness, tolerance, and community, as well as a cautionary tale against modeling selfishness and superiority to the impressionable children that look up to them.
Parenting and Guidance ThemeTracker
Parenting and Guidance Quotes in Wonder
What's cool about really little kids is that they don't say stuff to try to hurt your feelings, even though sometimes they do say stuff that hurts your feelings. But they don't actually know what they're saying. Big kids, though: they know what they're saying.
Maybe no one got the Darth Sidious thing, and maybe Julian didn't mean anything at all. But in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Darth Sidious's face gets burned […] His skin gets all shriveled up and his whole face just kind of melts.
I peeked at Julian and he was looking at me. Yeah, he knew what he was saying.
After you've seen someone else going through that, it feels kind of crazy to complain over not getting the toy you had asked for, or your mom missing a school play. I knew this even when I was six years old.
"I love Auggie very, very much," she said softly […] "But he has many angels looking out for him already, Via. And I want you to know that you have me looking out for you."
"Okay, that's fair," I said. "But it's not a contest about whose days suck the most, Auggie. The point is we all have to put up with the bad days. Now, unless you want to be treated like a baby the rest of your life, or like a kid with special needs, you just have to suck it up and go."
he seems too small to be walking around by himself, somehow. then i think how i was that young when i was taking the subway by myself. way too young. i'm going to be an overprotective dad someday, i know it. my kids are going to know i care.
"Auggie!" Mom yelled. "That's not true!"
"Stop lying to me, Mom!" I shrieked. "Stop treating me like a baby! I'm not retarded! I know what's going on!"
So I went to my bed and put on my pajamas without anyone telling me to and put the night-light on and turned the light off and crawled into the little mountain of stuffed animals I had left on my bed earlier.
"There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie," she said, looking at me. "But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other. Just like Jack was there for you. And Amos. And those other kids."