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Choose Kind Chicago Day Includes 'Wonder' Author R.J. Palacio

By Howard Ludwig | June 18, 2015 7:50am | Updated on June 18, 2015 8:16am
 Mary Cate Lynch, 3, of Beverly, is the driving force behind an effort asking Chicago-area school children to
Mary Cate Lynch, 3, of Beverly, is the driving force behind an effort asking Chicago-area school children to "Choose Kind." Plans are now underway for Choose Kind Chicago Day sometime in October.
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BEVERLY — Mary Cate Lynch, of Beverly, has visited with students throughout the Chicago-area and asked them to "Choose Kind."

The 3-year-old girl's powerful message is the driving force behind Choose Kind Chicago Day, said Kerry Ryan Lynch, Mary Cate's mom.

While the details are still coming together, the tentative plan calls for the special day in October. It will include a visit from R.J. Palacio, author of the popular preteen novel "Wonder."

"I think it's going to be a pretty big thing," Lynch said on Wednesday.

There's also talk of the Chicago Public Library stepping onboard by naming the New York Times bestseller as its selection for the One Book, One Chicago program, Lynch said.

 Mary Cate Lynch, 3, of Beverly, was born with Apert syndrome. She has been visiting schoolchildren on the Southwest Side to help teach them what it means to be different.
Mary Cate Lynch
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She and Mary Cate have visited 105 schools since May 2012. The pair talk about Apert syndrome — a rare disorder caused by an extra protein on one gene.

Mary Cate was diagnosed with the condition shortly after being born. Apert syndrome results in extra bones and cartilage, causing a misshapen skull and melded fingers and toes. About 25 children are born with this craniofacial condition in the United States each year.

Ahead of their presentation, Lynch asks teachers and students read "Wonder." The story details the life of August Pullman, a boy born with a facial deformity. His birthday is in October — hence the tentative date for Choose Kind Chicago Day, Lynch said.

"Wonder" is told from Augie's perspective, as well as the perspective of classmates, his sister, her boyfriend and others.

Combining the lessons learned from the book with a visit from Mary Cate has had a powerful impact. It seems particularly relevant to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students who are often approaching an age when they can feel self-absorbed and act unwelcoming toward others, Lynch said.

She and Palacio have never spoken, but the two are expected to meet as part of the day dedicated to their shared message - Choose Kind.

"I've written to her and told her I just want to give her a big hug and say, 'Thank You,'" Lynch said.

Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) has been working to bring the New York-based author to Chicago in celebration of the Lynch family for sometime. But Choose Kind Chicago Day only recently began to take shape after partnering with the Chicago Public Library and reaching out to the publisher, Lynch said.

Ideas for the special day include a reading by Palacio as well as a question-and-answer session with both the author and the Lynch family. There's also talk of a special VIP session either before or after the event for some 20 families impacted by craniofacial disorders from the Chicago-area, Lynch said.

A venue is still being sought. O'Shea wants the ceremony somewhere within the 19th Ward, where the Lynch family began their proactive approach to spreading awareness and teaching inclusion roughly three years ago.

As for Mary Cate, she and her mom will visit their final school on Friday. The pair have had more than 500 requests since last July to visit from schools as far away as Kankakee and north suburban Lake Forest.

Next year, Mary Cate begins preschool, which will make her less available for visits.

Still, Lynch said she wouldn't change a thing about her daughter or their approach to teaching kids about Apert syndrome. As a result of their efforts, hundreds of students have pledged to "Choose Kind."

"It's been awesome. It's just become way bigger than I ever expected," Lynch said.

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