RJ Palacio

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

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! 
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    R.J. Palacio writes the final post in the #WONDERschools blog tour today! Click through to read in its
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