R.J. Palacio Interview

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


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.



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.

8 thoughts on “R.J. Palacio Interview

  1. Thanks for sharing more about Wonder. I’m on my way to a conference the rest of this week & hope to find a copy. It sounds like just what we need as a nation-wouldn’t that be great?


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