We interviewed one of our favorite authors, R.J. Palacio, when she was visiting Symphony Space in Manhattan recently. She has written many books, but we all love the book “Wonder.”
Did the character Auggie in “Wonder” inspire you to do anything?
I learned a lot from Auggie. I learned patience, I learned how to have a thicker skin and I think I learned from Auggie how grateful I should be for the imperfections that I have. Like if you see yourself, I think it’s a really healthy thing to do sometimes when you’re having a bad day, you’re not feeling great about the way you look, you’re not loving something or some aspect of your life. If you think about the struggles that other people go through that are so much harder and so much more difficult, all you can say is you know what? I think from Auggie maybe I’d like to think I learned some resilience.
We know you give a brief description of Auggie. If you had to describe Auggie what would he look like?
I would say that Auggie has a form of Treacher Collins syndrome, which is a very real genetic affliction that some kids are born with. It comes with a very specific set of characteristics that all kids that have Treacher Collins have, like for instance, their eyes are placed a little bit low. If you look it up there’s a very specific series of traits that kids with Treacher Collins have. In the book I also combined Treacher Collins with an unknown kind of mysterious thing just because I didn’t want it to be specifically about something like Treacher Collins. I wanted it to be more like sort of something left to the imagination a little bit. It’s hard to describe what he looks like.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to hang out with my kids. One of them is in college now so I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like, but I have at home a 12-year-old who’s a sixth grader. I like to read. I love going to movies and watching movies. I had been playing squash recently. I kind of picked that up. I like taking walks in the park, going to the dog run with my dogs Bear and Bo and hang out with friends.
What was your favorite subject in school?
English/Art. I loved gym and I did love science. I wasn’t as great at it as I would have like to have been. And I did not enjoy math. I have to say. I struggled with it. The way they teach math now, they teach it differently than when I was young. It’s much more creative then it was in my day.
Before you were an author you created book covers. We know you didn’t create the “Wonder” book cover, but if you had, what would it be like?
If I were going to have done the “Wonder” book cover, I would have focused on the image of Auggie in an astronaut helmet. I thought that was a really, really iconic image and so in my mind’s eye, it would have been a drawing — kind of like the one that Tad Carpenter did for the cover, but it would have been a little boy wearing an astronaut helmet. It would have been full figure. All along I always wanted it to be for some reason a blue cover with black type and white type.
Since you’re a mom, how has writing the book affected your relationships with your children?
I can’t say it’s affected my relationship with them. They’re very proud of the fact that I wrote the book. My older son is in college now, so he read it. He was like in the 9th, 10th grade when it first came out. He read it from the perspective of someone who had just been through middle school. He liked it a lot. My younger son is your age, he’s 12 years old, so he’s kind of grown up with it the same way you guys have, in a way. His friends in school are reading it and I think he’s a little bit more, a little shyer about it because his friends, they kind of like the book a lot. . . . While I go around talking to kids in other schools I’m very cautious about not going to his school. I want to give him a little space from it.
What’s your favorite book?
I would say “The Little Prince.” That’s my favorite all-time kids’ book. It’s not even a kids’ book, it’s an everyone book.
What do you hope happens if a person that’s been a bully reads your book?
I hope that anyone who has ever bullied or maybe found themselves in a position of even laughing at the antics of a bully in class or school, I would hope that they would see themselves in Julian and [say,] “Thank God, I don’t want to be that kid. I don’t want to be remembered for being mean.” Eighty years from now as people grow up and they get old and they have memories and they look back and . . . Do you want to be remembered someday for being that mean kid in class who sort of made fun of other people or would you rather be remembered for being someone like Summer, who had the courage to go over to the new kid in school, and be nice and be friendly and really go out of your way to be a friend?