Behind the Book: Q&A with Bestselling Author R.J. Palacio

Just last month, R.J. Palacio published 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts as a companion book to her #1 New York Times bestselling novel Wonder. In this exclusive Q&A interview with Palacio, find out how 365 Days of Wonder (as well as Wonder and The Julian Chapter) was put together!

365 DAYS OF WONDER is a collection of precepts, or words to live by. You’ve included famous ones, but also precepts from kids around the world. Why did you decide to ask readers to contribute to the book, and what was the response when you did?

Kids, via their teachers and sometimes on their own, as well as adults, have been sending me precepts since Wonder first came out. To be truthful, back then I never anticipated receiving fan mail of any kind, so I wasn’t as organized as I could have been about sorting through the precepts. When I decided to do 365 Days, I wanted to be really efficient about being able to credit the kids who contributed precepts, which is why I decided to have a Twitter contest. I invited people to send me their precepts on postcards. The contest only lasted two weeks, and I received over 1,200 submissions. I’m still receiving them, actually, though the contest ended a long time ago. I was amazed by the response I got in such a short amount of time!

With so many submissions, how did you narrow it down to those precepts that were published in the book?

It was hard because there were so many great ideas. The first thing I noticed, though, is that many of the precepts were variations on the same theme. For instance, “Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you” was a common thread in a lot of precepts, so in that case I used the one I liked best. My family would help me sort through all the precepts as they came in. There were about 30 to 40 that absolutely jumped out at us for their originality, or joyfulness, or wisdom.

Is there one precept that really stands out for you in 365 DAYS OF WONDER?

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” by author Ian Maclaren

What inspired the story in WONDER?

I was with my two sons one day in front of an ice cream store, and we found ourselves in close proximity to a child with a very severe facial difference. My younger son started to cry because he was scared, and I was mortified that his tears would hurt the child’s feelings, so I left the scene very quickly and rather abruptly. I realized afterward that I had handled the situation terribly. What I wished I had done was to turn that encounter into a teachable moment for my kids. I wished I had stopped to talk to the kid, shown my own kids there was nothing to be afraid of, set a better example. It made me wonder what it must be like for that child, facing a world every day that doesn’t know how to face you back.

Tell us about the essays in 365 DAYS OF WONDER. Whom do we get to hear from? What was it like writing those after writing WONDER?

The premise of the book is that Mr. Browne has decided to compile the precepts he’s collected over the years into a book. So some of the precepts are from his own readings that he’s jotted down over time, and some are handwritten postcards from his students. Interspersed throughout the book, at the beginning of every month, are essays, written by Mr. Browne, that either tie into one of the precepts or are simply one of his life observations. He’s a pretty wise and sweet man, and he has a lot of commonsense things to say about parenting, teaching, and kids. Inside those essays, he talks about some of his students, so we hear about Summer and Jack. Auggie writes him a letter, for instance. Charlotte Cody interviews him for the school newspaper. And yes, he has a wonderful email exchange with Julian that truly sheds some light on his character. We also hear from Amos, a minor character in Wonder who actually solves a small mystery: how exactly did Mr. Tushman know about the mean notes Julian was leaving in Auggie’s locker?

Why did you decide to give Julian a voice in your e-original story, THE JULIAN CHAPTER?

I always knew that Julian had a story to tell, but it simply didn’t belong in Wonder, which is Auggie’s story, from beginning to end. To have included it in Wonder would have significantly changed the story arc, which is why he didn’t appear as his own chapter. Having said that, I knew Julian as a multidimensional character, with flaws and attributes, and I wanted to explore that in greater detail. An ebook short was the perfect way to do so.

You receive mail from fans of all kinds and, in particular, from children who have facial differences, and parents of those kids. What is that like for you?

It’s humbling for me to realize that my book has had a real-world impact on the lives of these children. They have a champion in Auggie, someone who’s given voice to their feelings, and whom other children with faces that don’t get stared at like and embrace as one of their own. Humbled is the only word I can think of for how that makes me feel. And grateful, too. I’m grateful that the book has had that kind of effect on people, that it’s made their lives even one iota easier.

Can you tell us one of your favorite fan memories?

That’s a tough question. I’ve been very lucky to have spent time with so many Wonder fans by now. I’ve had countless kids come up to me and tell me how reading the book has made them want to be kinder. I never get tired of hearing that. I’ve met grandparents who tell me how much the book has moved them. One 92-year-old woman shared her own story of being bullied when she was a young girl. But I think the most moving experiences I’ve had were the ones involving children who deal with the same issues Auggie deals with: children with craniofacial differences or other issues that cause them to be stared at, treated differently, and sometimes bullied. I’ve spent time with their moms and dads. That community has really embraced the book—and me, as well—which is so kind of them.

Tell us about the type of fan mail you receive?

The majority is from children who’ve read the book and tell me how much they love it or which character they’re most like, or they share a story with me about how reading the book made them reach out to another child in their class whom they had previously avoided for whatever reasons. I get a lot of mail from teachers and educators who’ve read the book aloud to their students, and they all tell me the book has inspired the most amazing and honest discussions they’ve ever had with their kids. I get a lot of fan mail from parents who’ve read the book with their kids, or were told to read the book by their kids. I love hearing about multigenerational reads.

If you could meet Auggie in person, what do you think you would talk about?

I think we’d start by talking about Star Wars stuff. He’d ask me if I was really into Star Wars myself or if I knew so much about it because my sons were into it, and I’d tell him that I’m the one that got my kids into Star Wars in the first place! And then we’d talk about our dogs. We both happen to have black dogs named Bear, which is such a coincidence.

 

The perfect companion book to Wonder, this new book is also a great gift for kids because it inspires kindness and friendship. Educators, librarians, parents and reading program directors can purchase 365 Days of Wonder wholesale at a discounted rate with BookPal, the leading eBook and book wholesale distributor. Find Wonder in bulk, as well as other young adult books in bulk and wholesale children’s books, by browsing BookPal’s online catalog.

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