Meet first time author R.J. Palacio and the Wonder-ful Auggie Pullman.
Q & A with R.J. Palacio
Where did you get your idea for this book?
About five years ago I took my kids to visit a friend of mine who lives out of town, and at some point during the day we found ourselves sitting next to a little girl who looked the way Auggie looks in the book. We were in front of an ice cream shop, and she was sitting next to us with her mother and a friend. My younger son was only about three at the time, and he reacted exactly the way you might think a three-year old would react when seeing something that scared him: he started to cry—pretty loudly, too. And though my older son, who was ten at the time, knew better than to stare, his expression said it all despite his best efforts: he looked like someone had just punched him. It was terrible, on all counts, and I got up as quickly as I could to remove us from the scene—not for their sakes, of course, but to spare the little’s girl’s feelings. As I pushed my younger son’s stroller away I heard the little girls’ mom say, in as sweet and calm a voice as you can imagine: “Okay, guys, I think it’s time to go.” And that just got to me.
On the drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about how that scene had played out. It occurred to me that they probably went through something like that dozens of times a day. Hundreds of times. What would that be like? What could I be teaching my children so they could understand how to respond better next time? Is “don’t stare” even the right thing to teach, or is there something deeper? All this stuff was flying through my head on the long car ride home while my boys slept in the back seat of the car. I was literally obsessing about it, so after a while I turned on the radio just to keep myself from thinking about it and the first thing that started to play was Natalie Merchant’s "Wonder." It was so amazing because that song had always been one of my absolute favorites—but that night the words really hit me, almost like I was hearing them for the first time. "People see me—I’m a challenge to your balance. I’m over your heads, how I confound you and astound you, to know I must be one of the wonders of god’s own creation…" It was like the song had been written for this girl I had just seen.
The book kind of wrote itself in my head on that drive home. I would write the story from the child’s point of view. It would help people understand—not pity. I’m just like you, the child would say. I’m an ordinary kid—except for this one thing. And I would call the book Wonder because this child is a wonder.
What was your favorite book when you were growing up?
The first book I remember loving was Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, which I read when I was seven. Later came Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and W.H.D. Rouse’s The Illiad. Then more normal preteen books like Little Women and everything by Judy Blume. And, like Via, I read War and Peace when I was fifteen.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Hmm, that’s a tough question. I have a couple of different favorites. I love Auggie so much—I loved when I was writing from his point of view. I liked when characters surprised me. Miranda was a surprise to me. I like Jack’s pluck. I love Summer. I wish I was more like her. And Via’s whole story is amazing to me. She’s strong and fierce but insecure, too. I love Justin because he loves Via.
What was the most difficult chapter to write?
I found the scene that takes place in the woods very difficult to write because it got scary for me: those kids from the other school were so mean. As the situation unfolded it all felt so real to me, and that made me sad. But one of my absolute favorite moments in the book happens then, too. It’s when Auggie wants to thank Amos and the other guys for coming to his rescue, and he lifts his hand to give a high five though he has no idea if Amos will high five him back, given that these were the same boys that had avoided getting near him for months. That Auggie could find the courage to raise his hand for the high five—not knowing if it would be reciprocated—is such an extraordinary act of courage to me. That moment moved me. And when he wept in the woods and those same boys comforted him.
Which of the characters were you the most like as a child?
I wish I could say I would have been Summer or even Jack, but unfortunately, I don’t think I was that good. If a kid like Auggie had come into my class when I was in the 5th grade, I think I would have been most like Charlotte: nice enough, never mean, but never really extending myself, either. Or I might have been a bit like Amos. I would have defended the underdog, but it would have taken some kind of drama to get me there. In terms of character and temperament, I think Via is very much like I was at fifteen.
Exerpts from Random Acts of Reading blog interview
More to Explore
- Why do you think the author chose not to describe Auggie’s face until very late in the book? How was it different or similar to how you saw Auggie?
- Auggie’s family plays a big role in his life. How does his relationship differ with each member of the family? How do they see him?
- How does writing the book from multiple viewpoints affect your reading of the book? Is there a character you wish you could have “heard” from?
- Why is Star Wars so significant to Auggie?
- How do the adult reactions to Auggie differ from the student reactions?
- Have you ever had to overcome a difficulty? How did you handle it?
- Is Auggie comfortable with himself and how does that effect how others relate to him?
- What was your reaction to Jack talking about Auggie on Halloween? What would you have done in the same situation if you were Jack? What if you were Auggie?
- Why do you think the author included the precepts? What would your precept be? Share your precept to the author.
- Become a member of the Choose Kind movement that was inspired by Wonder.