R.J. Palacio Interview

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Check out the Wonder trailer on Mr. Schu’s blog: Watch.Connect.Read

R.J. Placio talks about Mr. Browne’s precepts on Nerdy: Nerdy Book Club

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I read Wonder a couple of weeks ago, and it blew me away. With less than a dozen pages remaining in the book, I had to stop. I could not read on. My heart felt like it was on a roller coaster, and I wasn’t ready for the ride to end. With tears sprinting down my face, I stopped reading with just a few pages left. I placed the book in my coat closet and tried to get on with my life. It didn’t work. Auggie occupied nearly all of thoughts. Three days later I opened the closet, took Wonder to a quiet place, and finished the ride.

You must read this book. It is brilliant. I have a feeling that August will always have an important place in my heart.

I cannot begin to tell you how exciting it was to ask R.J. Palacio a few questions about her soon to be released debut novel, Wonder.

Can you tell us a little bit about Auggie and Wonder?


Auggie’s a very special boy—not because he looks different from everyone else, but because he has a heart as wide as the ocean. He’s not perfect, but his experiences and the things he’s suffered through have given him a deeper understanding of people than most kids his age would have—though he doesn’t necessarily know that about himself. He’s not precocious in any way, or even too self-aware. He’s been too sheltered his whole life to really see his situation in the world, but he’s strong, and he’s a little kid with lots of courage. I love him.

As for Wonder, it’s my first novel, and it’s about a little boy who wants to be ordinary but isn’t. It’s about a family that copes with extraordinary circumstances in everyday life. And it’s about a community of people facing a challenge that tests them individually. Ultimately, though, the book is a meditation on kindness, and the impact of kindness in the world.

Wonder is your first novel. What made you decide to move from designing book jackets, to writing a novel?

For as long as I could remember, there were two things I wanted to do with my life: to be a writer, and to be an artist. I made up my mind as a young adult that it would be easier for me to make a living as an artist, so I pursued that career. I went into book jacket design because it was a way for me to be a designer and still be near books. And I’ve been very fortunate to have had a successful run doing that. But all along there was always a nagging feeling that I still had this other thing I wanted to do, which was write. It was just always hard to find the time. I had a career. My husband and I started a family. Every once in a while I would start writing something, but my life would get in the way. There was just never the perfect time.
Then one day about five years ago I found myself sitting next to a little girl who had a severe facial anomaly, and it got me to thinking about what that would be like. Wonder kind of wrote itself in my head that night: the first line, the first paragraph. And unlike other writing endeavors I had started and then stopped, this one felt too important to me to let myself stop. I was determined to finish the novel. Auggie and all the other characters literally wouldn’t let me sleep at night unless I let them out for a while.

In Wonder, Auggie has a severe facial deformity. Can you tell me about the research that went into writing Wonder? Did you talk with kids? Parents? Do any reading?

I did a lot of research about kids with facial abnormalities. There are organizations, websites. There are many different syndromes, each with its own specific set of characteristics. After researching, I came to the conclusion that the girl at the ice cream store had probably had a severe form of Treacher Collins, which is what I pictured Auggie as having although I never really identify it in the book. He has a couple of things going on with him that make him truly unique, a medical wonder. I didn’t speak with any families dealing with these issues, though. Nor do I know anyone personally who has Treacher Collins.

Why did you tell the novel using multiple points of view? Were some voices easier to find?

It seemed like a very natural transition for me to make, moving from one person’s point of view to another. I knew that the narrative would continue forward, though, and follow a timeline of events—which was the school year. There just came a point when I really wanted to hear from Via’s point of view, for instance, what it must be like for her. And I wanted to know what Summer was thinking when she sat down with Auggie at the lunch table that first day of school. And to understand Jack’s point of view. I guess as I was writing these characters from Auggie’s point of view, they were so real to me and I felt like I understood them so well, their motives, etc., that I really just wanted to get inside their heads a bit more to explore. All of the voices I wrote in were relatively easy to find for me. Via was me at fifteen, so she was especially easy. I had made an attempt to write a chapter from Julian’s point of view, though, and he wasn’t coming to me at all, so I decided to abandon him. It’s not that he’s not real to me, because he’s very real. His mother is very real. But i realized that he had no interest in being part of Auggie’s story or narrative, which was his problem all along, and it was why I had no interest in writing about him. People who don’t bother trying to understand other points of view don’t grow as people, which makes them boring, in real life as much as in a book. Everyone of the characters I chose to write about, from their point of view, does evolve through the book. They grow. They learn. They experience. They make mistakes. That was compelling.

What do you want Wonder to say to young readers?

I guess I just hope that Wonder inspires young readers to be more aware of their actions and their words, and to be kind to one another. It’s so hard to do that when you’re trying to fit in socially and be popular, I know—especially in middle school—but you’ll regret the bad moments later: the good friend you turned your back on; the mean thing you said to someone. Certainly if someone like Auggie, who’s been the object of so much cruel scrutiny for most of his life, can manage to show kindness and empathy for others, so can every other 10 year old kid, no?

What did you enjoy reading as a child?

I loved anything having to do with Greek mythology, fantasy, and books about dogs.

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I am giving away two galleys Wonder.

Rules for the Giveaway

* The contest runs from January 30 to 11:59 PM on February 2.

* If you win Wonder, I will send you an email.

* You must be at least 13 to participate.

From Babymouse to Paradise

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The books that I hold deep in my heart didn’t win the Newbery Medal. I’ve decided to respond in a positive way by celebrating how one of those authors has inspired my readers. 

For many of my fourth graders the first time they ever see a graphic novel is the same day they walk into the fourth grade on the first day of school. At first they don’t really know what to do. They look, but don’t touch. I can tell that they don’t believe that they are actually going to get to read books that look cool.

Many of my fourth graders read NOTHING but graphic novels for the first few weeks of school. Babymouse, Lunch Lady, Amulet you name it-they read it. I like my readers to try lots of different books, so I try to work in recommendations here and there. I know that if I’m patient they will start to branch out and try different books, so I leave them be.

Yesterday was the 89th day of school. It was fun to take a moment and look around the room. Much like day one in fourth grade, nearly half my class was reading Jennifer Holm books.

On day one, each of my Holm readers were devouring a Babymouse graphic novel. Yesterday, I still had a pocket of about five kids reading Babymouse, but I also had another handful engrossed in Jenni’s novels. A girl sat in the corner chewing on her nails as she neared the end of Penny From Heaven. Another, sat at her desk, with a look of shock on her face, as she meets Grandma Patience for the first time. A boy and a girl sat together on the carpet reading Turtle in Paradise. The girls wore a look of disgust on her face as Turtle’s mother sends her away, and the boy was smiling as he read about “The Diaper Gang”.

I’ve enjoyed watching my fourth graders move from Babymouse to Turtle in Paradise. It will be interesting to see what my classroom looks like when when we sit down to read in June. I wonder what books we’ll be reading, sharing, and falling in love with. I’m pretty sure that at least one fourth grader will be curled up with a Jenni Holm book.

The Fourth Stall Part II by Chris Rylander

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In Stores February 7, 2012

Have you read The Fourth Stall? You know, the book about the kids running a business out of an abandoned bathroom at school. Thankfully, Chris Rylander has decided to bring Vince and Mac back back to the fourth stall for another adventure.

I believe in amazing ideas. I believe in creativity. I believe in books that kids will talk about and share. The Fourth Stall Part II is all of those things. I feel that the idea of boys running a business out of the bathroom at school is brilliant. What kid wouldn’t love to turn a profit at school? I would have.

The Fourth Stall is one of the easiest “book talk” sells a teacher/librarian will ever have. Start to tell them about the kind of problems Vince and Mac are solving out of their middle school bathroom and you will have a swarm of readers jockeying to be the first reader.

Vince and Mac are back in business after defeating the school bully in book one. In Part II Vince and Mac are hired by the new kids in school, Trixie Von Parkway. Trixie is having some major issues with the school’s new science teacher, and is looking for help from the boys working out of the fourth stall.

Just like in in book one, things are not always as they seem. Middle grade readers will have a ball trying to figure things out.

I really enjoyed The Fourth Stall Part II. If I could, I would totally go back to middle school and start my own business in the bathroom. Not sure what kind of operation I’d run, but I’m sure it would be just a little shady, just like Vince at Mac’s.

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? 1/23/2012

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Be sure to visit Teach.Mentor.Texts, Jen and Kellee are the wonderful hosts of this great meme.

3 Books I Loved Last Week

A River of Words – Jennifer Fisher Bryant

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams

Lost and Found – Oliver Jeffers

Lost and Found

The Bravest Woman in America -Marissa Moss

The Bravest Woman in America

My Favorite Books of the Week (had to pick 2 this week):

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Wonder

The One and Only Ivan – Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan

This Weeks Reading

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom – Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Fake Mustache – Tom Angleberger 

My Hope for Monday’s Awards

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Tomorrow we will crown new Children’s Literature champions. Books will be given a spot in history. Authors schedules will get slammed. My heart will get broken.

Newbery Medal image

Fourteen awards will be handed out Monday morning, but I choosing to focus on one. My favorite: The John Newbery Medal. I hope that the Newbery committee gets it right. My fear is that they will pick a book for the wrong reasons. The Newbery Medal is to be awarded to the book, “For The Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children”. What the heck does that mean? To me, it means that the book needs to be a book that kids will love. I don’t care how well plotted the book is, or how strong the characters are, if kids don’t like it: it is not distinguished.

Working with readers everyday, I have come across books that I feel are extremely well written, and kids love them. How do I know kids love them? I asked them.  They told me. We talked about them.

I have 5 books on my Newbery shortlist. I would be THRILLED to see any of the following books Medal or Honor on Monday.

I adore the following authors, and I admit that that may be a factor as to why I picked their books. On second thought, I think that fact that I love their books, is a big reason why I adore them.

The Trouble With May Amelia -Jennifer L. Holm

Breadcrumbs – Anne Ursu

Bigger Than a Bread Box – Laurel Snyder

The Friendship Doll – Kirby Larson

Hound Dog True – Linda Urban

All of these books cannot win. That makes me sad. All 5 of these ladies have written gorgeous books. Books that I feel are tremendous contributions, and books that kids love.

I am now going to talk a little bit more about 3 of the books. I have witnessed first hand the power and beauty of Hound Dog True, The Trouble with May Amelia, and Bigger Than a Bread Box.

Hound Dog True

I am currently reading Hound Dog True aloud to my fourth graders. Last week I read them chapter 5. If your have read HDT, chapter 5 is where we read about the incident between Star and Maddie. The class was blown away. I began to start talking about the chapter with the class, but held back.  I gave them a chance to process. It felt like time was standing still. No one was moving. They were frozen solid. I’m not sure that they were even blinking.

That my friends is DISTINGUISHED.

Bigger Than a Bread Box

How this book received no stared reviews is beyond me. It makes me want to use cuss words in this post. Wouldn’t it be fun if Newbery shocked the world and gave Bread Box the love that it deserves?

Bread Box has made its way around my classroom the first half of the year. It is never in the classroom library. I really should purchase more copies.

It was when I sat down with a boy reading Bread Box that I truly saw how special a book it was. As sat and talked with a 10 year-old boy about what he called, “The best book ever written”. I saw how a boy that had been effected by divorce was touched by this book. “Mr. Sharp, I feel like Laurel wrote this book for me.”

My response, “She did.”

Does it get more DISTINGUISHED than that?

The Trouble With May Amelia

I love everything Jennifer Holm. Let’s just get that out of the way. I would read her grocery list.

The Trouble With May Amelia is brilliant.

My May Amelia story includes a former student that is now in seventh grade. She is always stopping by to chat books. She catches all the big fevers: The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight.

I wanted to give her something different. Something that would rock her socks. I gave her May Amelia. Three days later she was back. With tears in her eyes hugging the book she said, “Thank you Mr. Sharp. This is the best book I have ever read.”

DISTINGUISHED.

I wish that I could talk more about The Friendship Doll and Breadcrumbs, but they are just beginning their journey around Room 23. I’m excited to see what the experts think (10 year-old readers).

I’m confident that by the time anyone reads this post, The committee will make me look like an idiot. That’s okay. I think I have a pretty good idea of it means to be a “Distinguished contribution to children’s literature.”

Kick Butt Book Covers

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Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Yeah right. Can anyone honestly say that they don’t, before reading, do a little judging of a book based on the cover? I know I do. All the time.

What I don’t do is judge an author by their covers. Publishers are a different story. One of my favorite authors, has at times, not had the most flattering covers. It breaks my heart when a great book, has a dreadful cover.

Today, I want to take a second a celebrate some amazing book covers of books that I am dying to read.

I think that the cover to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile is one of the top 10 covers of all time (I smell a future Nerdy Book Club post), and early this week Raina did not disappoint when she released the cover to her upcoming graphic novel Drama.

Drama’s  scheduled release date: September 2012

I love everything Kate Messner writes, and I’ve been waiting impatiently for her to reveal the cover to her 2012 middle grade novel Capture the Flag. I was not disappointed.  I can’t look at the cover without asking myself tons of questions as to what the book is about.

Capture the Flag’s scheduled release date: June 1, 2012

Like the authors mentioned above, Tom Angleberger doesn’t need great covers to sell books. Thankfully, since he dropped the pen name of Sam Riddleburger, Tom’s covers have been lights out. I think the first cover is the one Amulet ended up going with, but love both of these Fake Mustache covers. It’s hard to believe that these covers were designed for the same book. Looking at them separately I would have predicted totally different stories.

Fake Mustache’s scheduled release date: April 1, 2012

Enough about covers. I’m off to read Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Have you seen the cover?

Wonder

My New Reading Goal for 2012

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Late in 2011, I decided that I wanted to read 1,000 books in 2012. Feeling like a chicken, on January 1 I set my reading goal at 700 books. The number 1,000 just seemed too daunting. My good friend Alyson Beecher encouraged me to dream for 1,000, so around January 10 I upped up goal to 1,000.

I am off to a pretty good start!

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Colbyhasread 114 books toward a goal of 1000 books.
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Ten Books That Stand Out:

2012 Books:

The Mighty Miss Malone

Looking at Lincoln

Neversink

Pre 2012 Books:

The Bravest Woman in America

Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World

A Monster Calls

Lost and Found

In a Blue Room

Top #Nerdbery (My favorite Newbery Medal book that I’ve read so far this year)

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (Books of Wonder)

Top #Nerdcott (My favorite Caldecott Book that I’ve read this year)

Frog and Toad Are Friends (I Can Read Book 2)

Five Books I’m Dying to Read

Wonder

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Babymouse #16: Babymouse for President