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Monday, November 28, 2016

Ugly, written by Robert Hoge and illustrated by Keith Robinson. Penguin, 2016. $21.99 ages 10 and up

"Plus, my eyes still sat more than twice as far apart as they should have been. There were so far apart I couldn't use both of them to focus on one thing at the same time. If I wanted to look closely at something like a toy or a book, I either had to pick it up and move it around to the side of my head or turn my head to bring one eye in line with it."

When Robert was born with horrendous physical abnormalities that affected his face and his legs, the doctor suggested that he be left at the hospital. His mother refused to see him. His four older siblings chose his future, wanting to take him home where he was fully supported to have as normal a life as possible.

Who he is today is the result of that upbringing, and his own unique and wonderful personality. Countless surgeries, including amputations on both legs, did not stop him while it did slow him down. Robert praises the doctors for the many attempts they made to give him a face that was as close to normal as was possible. He talks about the bullying, the taunts, the many bumps in the road he travelled.

A move to a new school in fifth grade was not easy:

"Four weeks in I was being called half a dozen names that weren't Robert - cripple, spastic, legless, and the dreaded Toe Nose. Even though some of my friends had come to the new school as well, sometimes it felt like the loneliest place in the world. I'd pick up a new nickname every six months or so. Some would go out of fashion, to be forgotten for a year or two, and then come back in vogue. Some would slowly lose their power to hurt me and would fall into disuse."

He goes on to describe his top ten favorites, including for each the origin, the originality, the hurt factor, the laugh factor, and how he got over it. Seeing the world through a window into Robert's reality is painful and personal. He challenged himself to remain active and upbeat. He got lots of support along the way. His family defended and encouraged him to try anything he wanted to try. He longed to be part of any sports team, despite his disabilities.  In sixth grade, he helped 'coach' the rugby team. By eighth grade he had given up his dream to participate in competitive team sports, and that is when he discovered lawn bowls. Amazing! Finally, at 14, he is encouraged to make his own decision about any further surgery.

Humorous, honest and enlightening about his life's challenges, Robert Hoge has written a book that is sure to encourage discussion and inspire empathy, especially if you are to share it alongside R. J. Palacio's Wonder (2012).

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