RJ Palacio

Musings on being an author, graphic designer, and mother. First novel WONDER published February 2012!

SEND ME YOUR POSTCARD PRECEPTS!


Do you or a child you know have a WONDER-ful precept that you live by? I’m looking for some original precepts for a new book I’m working on! If you have a unique, or daring, or especially beautiful precept that you’d like to share with the world—this is your chance!

If you’d like to see your precept published in my next book—in your own handwriting—please send me your POSTCARD PRECEPT by December 20th, 2013. I won’t be able to publish every precept mailed in, but at least 20 of the best entries will be used in the book.

How to enter? First, write your PRECEPT on a POSTCARD as legibly as you can. I’ll be using a scan of the postcard, so be neat! If you want to embellish with some of your own artwork, by all means, go ahead! Make it as unique as you would like! Then, write your name, address, age, and email on a separate piece of paper. Enclose that paper—along with your POSTCARD—in an envelope, and mail to:

PO BOX 150025
275 9th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
attn: R. J. Palacio

Entries must be received by December 20, 2013 to be eligible. Please note, no original postcards will be returned. No last names will be published. Only entrants whose precepts have been chosen will be notified if they have been chosen.

Thanks, and good luck!
—RJP

18th Feb 2013 | 7 notes

Why did you name him August?

Answer: I really liked the name August.

6th Jan 2013

i-will-kick-you asked: Hi, I have a question. Did you mean for August's connection with Daisy to have such a mirroring effect? They are so similar.

Hmm, that’s an interesting question, and I’m not quite sure what you mean by mirroring effect. I think Daisy was simply the only creature in Auggie’s universe that didn’t see his face as looking that different from everyone else’s face. To a dog, we all look a little alike.

6th Jan 2013 | 2 notes

somanyadjectives asked: Hi there. I won't be at all offended if you don't answer this, I just wanted to let you know that I thought Wonder was the most beautiful book I've ever read. I thought you portrayed Auggie perfectly, and I loved the way you showed everyone's points of view. That's all I wanted, just to say that the perfect book is perfect. Happy New Year :)

Thank you so much, and happy new year to you, too.

5th Jan 2013 | 2 notes

Hi, Mrs.Palacio!

How are you? My name is Olivia. I really enjoyed your book Wonder. I have a question,is it going to be a series? It made me cry at parts-like when Daisy died,or when Auggie got made-fun-of. My parents taught me to ecept people the way they are. Thank you for making this book. It is now my favorite!  

5th Jan 2013 | 2 notes

judyjester asked: Any idea about paperback publication date?

I don’t know when my publisher is planning to come out with a paperback version.

5th Jan 2013 | 2 notes

THANK YOU

Comment: I cannot thank you enough for writing Wonder. I have a son with a craniofacial condition and reading this book was like reading his diary. You gave such insight to the trials they face everyday with such courage. So many events in that book could have been written by my son. Thank you for bringing attention to a very hard subject. If people could just get past that first look and really “SEE” the other person life would be so much better for everyone.

Answer: Thank YOU so much for writing. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to know that my book has, in some small way, helped your son and children like him. My hope is that it helps children who don’t look like you son, too, to have a better understanding and more empathy for children like your son. Again, thanks for writing. -RJP

18th Dec 2012 | 1 note

Why did you choose to name him August?

I chose the name August because I love the name. It’s also a name that seems to have come into favor in the last decade, as I know three different Augusts under the age of sixteen. Lastly, one of my favorite cartoons growing up was Augie Doggie. (I guess it’s lucky I never liked Magilla Gorilla that much…)

25th Nov 2012 | 5 notes

WONDER FAQs

I’ve had a very busy, very fruitful last couple of months visiting schools and bookstores  across the country. I wish I could go to every school that’s invited me, or even to Skype with them, but as many of you know, being an author is a relatively new thing for me. I have a day job, and I have two kids. A busy life precludes my being able to go on a real book tour, and makes answering each and every email I get an impossible endeavor (though I try). But in the school visits I have made, and in the emails I have answered, I do notice a commonality to some of the questions I get. The main one, which is what inspired me to write Wonder, I’ve told many times elsewhere. But below (in random order) are a bunch of other questions I get asked with some frequency, as well as my answers to them.  

 Why is Justin’s part written without uppercase letters and without proper punctuation?

I played trombone for seven years through middle school and high school. And I remember thinking back then, especially when I would get into the really low notes, that  notes on a musical staff looked a little like lowercase letters of the alphabet. I don’t play anything now but I can still read music, and I still think that way. Ascenders and descenders remind me of half note and quarter notes, depending on where they fall on the staff. The baseline of a letter is a bit like a ledger line. Certain serif faces even have strokes that call to mind that graceful little flag on top of the stem of a note. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a graphic designer for so many years, but I’m trained to see typefaces and fonts not just as communication devices, but as visual cues for other things. So when it came to writing from Justin’s point of view, because he’s a musician, someone who thinks in musical terms, it just seemed natural for me to use lowercase letters to represent his thoughts in a very visual way. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t talk a lot, because he’s naturally shy, but has a lot going on inside. The running monologue inside his head has no time for capital letters or punctuation: it’s like his thoughts are streaming inside his mind.


Why did you go into different points of view? Did you know you were going to do that all along?

I didn’t know I was going to go into multiple points of view at the beginning of the book. I thought I would stay with Auggie for the whole story. But then I started getting very curious about Via and what she was going through in her life, and I wanted to get behind the motivation behind Summer’s bravely sitting down with Auggie at lunchtime, or Jack’s betrayal, and I knew that to do that, to really explore Auggie’s complete story, I would have to leave his head for a while. Auggie’s a smart kid, and he notices a lot of things, but he doesn’t ever really know the full extent of the impact he has on people. And I didn’t want to make him one of the precocious kids who somehow knows things he isn’t supposed to know: I find those types of characters largely unbelievable, and I wanted Auggie to always be believable to me.

So I decided to go into multiple perspectives. One of my all-time favorite books, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, does this, and that book has always stayed with me. Of course it’s risky to go into different perspectives because a) I’m know I’m no William Faulkner, and b) it’s easy for the story to become unwieldy and get away from you. Characters can sometimes hijack a story. It can be hard to get all the players to feel like they’re part of the same world.

When I made up my mind to go into multiple points of view, I decided to lay down three ground rules for myself. One: all the characters would have to propel the narrative forward in a linear way. While there could be some flashbacks, the plot would move forward with each point of view. It was like a relay race, and each character gets the baton and passes it forward. The baton is the story. Two: all the characters would have to enhance Auggie’s storyline. That is to say, they could tell their own story—but only as it intersects or weaves in and out of Auggie’s story. Three: all the characters whose voices we hear have grown or changed from knowing Auggie. As they get to know him, they all enhance his storyline as he enhances theirs.

Why doesn’t Julian have his own chapter?

 Julian’s major problem is that he never bothers to get to know Auggie, much less be changed or moved by him. As a result, he has nothing to add to Auggie’s story. He is too self-involved to be interested in Auggie, too consumed by what he thinks other kids are thinking about him. So Julian’s story could never enhance Auggie’s storyline the way, say, a relatively minor character like Justin’s does. Justin’s in the book because his romance with Via happens to intersect with Auggie’s story at a very pivotal moment in time, a moment that occurs within the timeframe covered in the book. In that brief time, Justin is transformed because of Auggie, and his actions, however minor, propels the narrative. Julian never undergoes a change. He stays the same throughout the year: an obstacle Auggie and his friends must get around—through his choice and his actions.

Now, I could have cheated a bit. I could have had Julian have some kind of revelation about Auggie, or even become interested in him enough to somehow impact on Auggie’s story. Then I could have included him in the book. But ultimately, that didn’t seem true to his character for me. Wonder is a character-driven book, and the most important thing for me was to stay true to those characters, their motivations and impulses. To have Julian suddenly shift course and start actually relating to Auggie, well, it would have been nice, but it just didn’t seem real. So for me to include a chapter from Julian’s perspective while staying true to his character would have meant writing a chapter full of the very mean things he said or thought about Auggie. But here I felt a certain responsibility as an author—you can even call it a maternal instinct—to those readers of the book who have craniofacial abnormalities similar to Auggie’s. I couldn’t in good conscious write anything that might hurt them in any way. I just couldn’t give voice to Julian’s ugly sentiments—in essence, to give a bully a platform. To what end? So he could try and rationalize his dislike of Auggie? So he could explain his point of view? I didn’t want to rationalize those mean impulses in him. I don’t believe there is a rationale for them. There might be a reason, and a cause, but that would be another book. I wasn’t about to let Julian hijack Auggie’s story and turn it into his own. The book’s not about him and how he became the mean-spirited kid he is. It’s about Auggie, the boy he never bothers to get to know. As a result, Julian’s voice has no place in the book.

This book has a strong anti-bullying message. Were you bullied as a child?

 Yes, it does have a strong anti-bullying message, and no, I wasn’t bullied as a child. But I remember a lot about that time in my life, and I know that bullying takes many forms besides the more obvious physical kinds that occur. There’s social isolation. There’s ridicule. There’s abandonment of friends. Those kinds of things I did experience, although never on the level Auggie does, of course. I remember kids like Julian. They feel emboldened and empowered by putting someone else down. It’s the classic bullying modus operandi: find someone in every crowd that can be at the bottom of the pecking order. That’s what Auggie was to Julian—someone to be at the bottom of the food chain. When it’s wasn’t Auggie, it was Jack by association to Auggie. And if it weren’t Auggie or Jack, it would have been someone else: maybe the two Maxes because they like role-playing games, or Reid because he’s an earnest kid who wants to save the oceans. But it would have had to be somebody. The Julians of the world always need somebody to put down to feel elevated themselves. It’s a very primitive feeling, about as emotionally immature as a person can be. Summer is on the opposite end of that spectrum: she’s quite advanced, emotionally and spiritually.

What character do you like the most?

 That’s like asking a mom who her favorite child is. I can’t answer that: I love them all.

What character do you identify with the most or is the most like you?

 I wish I could say I was most like Summer, but that wouldn’t be true. I try to be more like her every day, though. The character most like me is Isabel, the mom. Via’s a lot like I was when I was fifteen, though. Then again, I think Via and Isabel are a lot alike. But the character I identify the most with as a girl, or who represents what I might have been like if a kid like Auggie came to my school, is Charlotte. I think a lot of kids can relate to Charlotte. She’s nice enough, but she never really goes out of her way to be kind to Auggie. She’ll wave hello from a distance, but she never sits down with him. She helps Jack behind the scenes, but she never openly sides with him. She’s a good girl, but she’s not quite brave enough to act on her good instincts. That kind of bravery sometimes doesn’t come until you’re older, and sometimes doesn’t come at all. She represents the difference between simply being nice, and choosing to be kind, which is a main theme of the book. She’s the classic bystander, though I think by the end of the book she’s become aware of this. Her precept shows this. I think in the sixth grade, she’ll be an upstander, not a bystander.

Why don’t the mom or dad ever have their own chapters in Wonder?

 I purposely left out the parents’ point of views because it would have changed the focus of the book from child-driven to something else, something darker and somewhat more cynical. This is something I didn’t want. It was my choice to end the book on a happy note in Auggie’s life, a time when he feels triumphant and well-loved. But we know that life won’t always be so kind to him, and the adults in the book know that, too. It’s one of the reasons I think adults reading the book get so emotional when reading it—far more emotional than children. But life comes one day at a time, and it’s the prerogative of an author to tell whatever story they choose to tell, and to end it where they want. Isabel and Nate have their own story to tell, but I didn’t want to include it here. They are only seen through the eyes of children in the book, and are thus somewhat idealized by them. The children only see in their parents what their parents let them see—less so in Nate but very much so in Isabel. She’s very guarded about what she lets her kids see of her. She doesn’t want Auggie to see the fear in her eyes as she lets him—in fact pushes him—to go to school for the first time. She doesn’t let Auggie see how hurt and angry she gets by the faces others make when they see her son, or the mean things she overhears them saying. She only lets him see the side of her that will help him be strong and happy, but the other side of her, the one that’s afraid for her son, of what the future holds for him, is only seen by her husband and her closest friends. So the Isabel we see in the book is purely through the eyes of her children. We can imagine that she might be a very different person if we met her for dinner after a couple of margaritas: she would be more candid, more angry, more sad, more tired than she ever appears in the eyes of her children. I certainly never knew all the stuff my mother was going through at the more difficult times in her life, or what she was feeling. She shielded me from things, from her own feelings about things. Isabel does the same with her kids.

Will there be a sequel to Wonder?

 I’m flattered that so many kids ask me this, and offer me their beautiful and brilliant suggestions for what Auggie could be doing in the sixth grade, and in high school, and as an adult. And I’m sure my publisher would love a sequel ;) But I don’t think this is the kind of book that warrants a sequel. Some books are like that. I chose to end the book on a happy note in Auggie’s life, and I hope and pray for his well-being and happiness forever. Like his mom in the book, I have to believe that the world will be kind to Auggie and those like him. I have to believe that people will open their hearts to him. And maybe reading the book makes people think about the possibility of this happening. I wanted to tell Auggie’s story to make readers wonder about who they are and who they can choose to be. My hope is that after reading the book, they will always choose to be kind. 

There are more questions, but this is it for now. I’ll start posting more when I have a bit more time. Like I said: it’s been a really busy last couple of months. Start of school, full-time job, one-pot fudge brownies, Hurricane Sandy, birthdays, aging father, and one dog with irritable bowel syndrome (not pretty). I wish being an author were my one and only job, but for now it’s not. So again, my apologies for any emails not answered or tweets not retweeted. 

Until later,

RP

10th Oct 2012 | 7 notes

Happy Birthday, Auggie!

I honestly didn’t set out to start a movement—I just wanted to write a little book. But I’m writing this post today, October 10th, the date of August Pullman’s birthday, as part of the amazing #WONDERblogtour for the CHOOSE KIND campaign launched by Random House several months ago—a campaign that has become a movement for schools all across the country. And I am incredibly humbled and grateful.
 
As I mentioned, I really had just set out to write a little book—a quiet, simple book—about a boy with a facial difference. It was the kind of book that wouldn’t lend itself to sequels, a book that I wasn’t sure anyone would ever want to publish, much less read. It’s not exactly a commercial subject. There are no vampires or wizards. There’s no magic moment in the book when Auggie Pullman turns, like the heroes of the greatest fairy tales, into a handsome prince. It’s really just a book about kindness: the impact of kindness, the choice to be kind. I wanted to try and make kids a little more aware of how the choices they make—where they sit at lunch time, whether they’re laughing at someone else’s expense—really matters. It’s not just about whether you’re a bully or not—most kids would never see themselves that way. It’s about whether you are kind or unkind. And if there’s ever a time when kids need reminding of this, it’s in middle school and high school. Emily Bazelon and I discuss this exact topic over at Slate today: the impact of kindness. In any case, lofty topics like this aren’t  exactly a “hot” subject for kids, and it doesn’t usually make for the kind of book publishers are dying to publish. There were even a few times during the writing of the book that I started doubting myself completely, wondering if it wouldn’t be wise for me to set the book in some dystopian future or give Auggie a superpower so that it might be more saleable to a publisher when the time came. And even if someone did publish it, I assumed it would follow the noble path of the majority of books published: a few weeks spine-out in the bookstores—after which it would only be found in libraries—and then, if lucky, a paperback edition a year later. This is the fate of most of the books that are published, and I held no pretensions that my little, quiet book about a boy with a facial difference—and the impact of kindness—would fare better than average.
 
So what has happened since the publication of Wonder earlier this year goes well beyond my wildest dreams—and believe me, anyone who knows me knows of my capacity to dream big. It’s not about its critical reception or the number of copies sold that I’m talking about, by the way— though of course I’m thrilled that those have also exceeded my expectations: it’s specifically about the librarians that have taken Auggie Pullman into their hearts and want to share his story with their students. It’s about the number of emails I get everyday from school principals telling me they are using Wonder as an all-grade read, or an all-school read, and even, in some places, an all-county read. It’s about all the teachers who share their stories about the intensity of their classroom discussions after their daily Wonder read-aloud, and moms who tell me how much they’re enjoying reading it in the mother-child book groups. It’s about a group of dedicated educators in the Rio Grande who got ten Title-1 schools across several districts to pool their resources together to fly me out to talk to their students about the impact of kindness. It’s the notes I’ve gotten from kids or parents of kids who are facing the very issues Auggie’s facing everyday. One mom wrote that her son now has a hero he can root for (http://www.ccakidsblog.org). But most of all, it’s about the number of kids who have said or written to me, tweeted, or even blogged that reading Wonder made them want to be kinder people. Kids wanting to be kinder people? Can it get better than that?
 
Today, classrooms across the country are celebrating Auggie’s birthday. There are cakes and cookies being made, song lists from the book being played, standing ovations being given. Thank you, Mr. Etkin, for starting the #WONDERschools hashtag and getting this amazing ball rolling by having teachers talk to one another about how they’re using Wonder in their classrooms. Thank you, Mr. Schu and Nerdy Book Clubbers for being among the first WONDERvangelists to get the “Choose kind” message out there. Thank you, Random House, for being brave enough to publish my little, quiet book and then launching the CHOOSE KIND (choosekind.tumblr.com) movement: what a strong anti-bullying stance you’ve taken on behalf of all the Auggies out there. And thank you, most especially, to all the WONDERful kids who’ve taken the pledge to CHOOSE KIND on behalf of Auggie Pullman. Here’s a new precept for you: “Be the wonder you want in the world.” Happy Birthday, Auggie! 
11th Sep 2012 | 2 notes

spockblock asked: I just really need to thank you for giving me (and the rest of the world) Wonder.

Wow, thanks so much! WHat a sweet post. 

11th Sep 2012 | 5 notes

nateobt asked: At the end of your book Wonder, I could tell August was having an easier time getting through school after what had happened at the camp. But even though the kids at his school were being nicer to him, he will still have difficulty doing other things. I was wondering if you had any plans to write another book on the challenges August faces throughout his childhood and into his adulthood. In other words is there going to be a sequel to the book Wonder?

Hi Nate,

I have no plans to write a sequel to Wonder. I think people have so taken Auggie into their hearts, that they’re almost better off imagining what his life will be like themselves. I think he’s going to have an awesome life, don’t you?

11th Sep 2012 | 2 notes

wonder

PLEASE WRITE A SEQUEL TO WONDER!!!! I LOVE THAT BOOK!!!

4th Jun 2012 | 1 note

CHOOSE KIND

Words can’t begin to express my own sense of wonder when I first glimpsed the Random House “ChooseKind” anti-bullying campaign launched this week. An entire tumblr site dedicated to the notion that kids, like grown-ups, can aspire to be kinder than necessary. An entire tumblr site dedicated to eradicating bullying, and to celebrating the people in our lives courageous enough to stand up against it. My favorite part of the site is where you can take a pledge to “choose kind.” Please spread the word, take the pledge. Choosekind.tumblr.com.

6th May 2012 | 1 note

A Brief Exculpatory Explanation of Darth Daisy

 Spoiler alert: please don’t read this if you haven’t read Wonder and don’t want a major plot point revealed.

In a recent review of my book, Wonder, The Irish Times reviewer questions why Darth Daisy, the family dog, had to die.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard this question. I’ve read a few blog reviews in which the writers were actually angered by Daisy’s passing, intimating that I put it in for the sole purpose of eliciting tears in my readers. (Interestingly enough, I’ve gotten no complaints from anyone about the fact that the grandmother in the story dies, a plot point that reduced me to tears when writing but is not at all as controversial, it seems, as having the family dog pass away.) One dog devotee actually pointed out that dying dogs was a trend in children’s books that had to stop, which leads me to wonder if that person believed that I had sacrificed Daisy to be part of some literary clique of canine-killing authors.

So let me explain. I love dogs. I’ve loved them my whole life. There was Fella, who died young. Caesar, who died old. And Dune, who died most recently. I now have two dogs: Bear, a shiny black mutt that looks like a scrappy mix between a shiba and a shepherd; and Beau, a goofy chocolate labradoodle who hasn’t yet finished growing into his gigantic paws.  I know firsthand how the passing of a dog really is one of life’s big heartbreaks, and I want to go on record that I would never trivialize that experience by turning it into a shameful plot device to get people to cry.

The reason I made Daisy die is this: I needed something to happen to the Pullman family that was somehow larger than them and all their myriad problems. That’s all.

I wanted Auggie to experience something that had nothing to do with him or his face or his friends or his problems. Daisy’s death doesn’t just happen to him, after all—it happens to all of them, the whole family. And that’s a real growing-up moment for Auggie, a moment when he sees that his parents could grieve over something that has nothing to do with him. “Everything’s not always about you,” Via tells him, and it’s possibly the first time in his life that he finally really understands that.

It’s a pivotal moment for Auggie—not only does he lose the one creature in the world that doesn’t see him the way everyone else sees him, but he very briefly loses his place in the pecking order of the Pullman family. As they all go through their own mourning process, no one, for a little while, is thinking about him. That’s a first for Auggie who, let’s face it, is a wee bit spoiled. This becomes a transitional point in the novel. After this, Auggie really does start to become more independent.

 As much as I would have loved to spare Daisy, her death becomes part of the evolution of Auggie Pullman: her memory strengthens him when he thinks about her, and her life—and death—expands the narrative of his life beyond what it always had been. That’s what dogs do for us, after all: they expand the story of our lives in incalculable ways. They enrich us. They love us unconditionally. And when they die, our lives are changed forever. That universal experience is one of the many things that unite us all as human beings, no matter what our differences are, no matter what our faces look like.