The Merriam-Webster kids definition for remorse is “a deep regret for having done wrong.” The question is how do we teach kids remorse? Or better yet, how do we model remorse? The Julian Chapter by R.J. Palacio asks these same questions. Luckily for us Ms. Palacio eloquently helps us have a better understanding of what is means to be truly remorseful. The Julian Chapter is a companion book to Wonder. It is the story of the school year that changes so many, but through the eyes of Julian.
From the beginning Julian doesn’t present himself much better than he was portrayed in Wonder. In other words he is a royal jerk! Julian’s mom has great influence over his behavior towards Auggie. At times she is the one that stokes the flames in the fire. From the get go Julian talks about how he needs to be remorseful, but he doesn’t know how or what it even means. (Think, apple---tree---apple---tree.)
The first half of the book follows the school year, while the second part focuses on the time he spends with his Grandmère in Paris. Julian was not overly excited about having to spend the summer with her, but it is here where he learns what humanity really is. His Grandmère was a Holocaust survivor, and she tells Julian a story about her childhood. It is one that she has never told to anyone. It is powerful and changes Julian.
When I started The Julian Chapter I was apprehensive. Wonder is a book that means so much to me, and I worried that this book would cheapen the experience, but as I mentioned at the beginning Ms. Palacio is a master storyteller. True to form Mr. Tushman’s words ring strong. “If you don’t know what to do, just be kind. You can’t go wrong.”
What stands out the most is that Julian learns how to be remorseful. Unfortunately, he lives in a house where demonstrating this is a sign of weakness. Luckily, his Grandmère gives him courage to do what is right.
I look forward to sharing this with students. It will be an important way for them to see the world through different points of view; and, hopefully, in the words of Mr. Tushman…”always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary.”