In her best-selling debut novel, R. J. Palacio introduced the world to Auggie Pullman, a soon-to-be fifth grader born with a severe facial deformity whose unfailing kindness and compassion make him stand out. In her latest releases, Palacio expands the Wonder universe: The Julian Chapter is a short e-book told from the perspective of Auggie’s rival, and 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts is a collection of words to live by peppered with conversations between Mr. Browne and his students, including Auggie and Julian. We spoke with Palacio about her runaway hit and what’s next for the kids at Beecher Prep.
Q | Tell us about your inspiration for Wonder.
A | About seven years ago, I was with my two kids and we happened to find ourselves in close proximity to a girl with a pretty severe craniofacial difference. My younger son started to cry, and I kind of panicked and left. I obsessed about that moment all day. I realized afterward that I should have turned to the little girl and started up a conversation, showing by example that there was nothing to be afraid of.
I decided I was going to write abook about what it must be like to face a world every day that doesn’t know how to face you back.
Q | What is the book’s message?
A | It’s a meditation on kindness. I think fear drives us sometimes. We are afraid of making an awkward situation worse, so we do nothing. What I realized in the end is that if something is done with an eye toward being kind, it’s never misconstrued. It always works out for the best.
Q | There are a lot of really great teachers in Wonder. Any inspiring teachers in your life?
A | Mr. Browne is actually based on my high school English teacher Mr. Browne! I wanted to write a book in which teachers are portrayed as the great people and role models that I believe them to be.
Q | How did 365 Days of Wonder come about?
A | I used to collect precepts and inspirational quotes as a teen. Whenever I came across something that tickled my fancy or sounded particularly inspirational, I’d put it in my scrapbook. I kept the scrapbook for only about a year, but I always thought the idea was an interesting one.
After Wonder was published, kids—and adults—started sending me their personal precepts. I held a two-week Twitter contest (@RJPalacio) to collect postcard precepts and received more than 2,000 submissions. I ended up using about 75 in the book. It’s a nice mix: some precepts from real children and some from Aristotle!
Q | Julian, Wonder’s chief antagonist, finds a bit of redemption in both 365 Days of Wonder and The Julian Chapter. Why bring Julian back?
A | A lot of kids, whether they wanted to admit it or not, identified with Julian. It’s important for kids to see that you can make a mistake and do something you’re not proud of but it doesn’t have to define you. I wanted to have that closure between Julian and Auggie so that they could move forward with a clean slate.
Q | Are you planning any more Wonder books?
A | I’m doing two more original e-books. One is going to be from Christopher’s point of view [Auggie’s best friend, who moves away early on in Wonder], and the other from Charlotte’s [a classmate of Auggie’s]. Charlotte is a very interesting character, so we’ll be hearing from her soon.
Photo: Vincent Dilio