Author R.J. Palacio wrote the children’s novel Wonder, a fictional story about trying to fit in when you stand out. Since its release earlier this year, the book has popped up in classrooms and libraries across the country, bringing with it a powerful message about the importance of kindness.
The idea for the highly praised book came from a real incident. The author, who uses a pen name, was at an ice-cream shop with her two sons when they saw a little girl with a severe facial deformity. Palacio’s 3-year-old son started to cry. Her 10-year-old son looked alarmed. She quickly pulled the boys away. Palacio never saw the girl again, but she did not forget about her. “I started thinking about what life must be like for that family, for that little girl,” she told TFK. That, she says, is how she came up with the idea for August Pullman, the main character in Wonder.
August, who goes by the name Auggie, was born with a misshapen face that has required many surgeries in the 10 years since his birth. After being homeschooled since kindergarten, he starts fifth grade at a public school. It isn’t easy being the new kid, especially since Auggie looks different from everybody else. The book takes readers on a journey, as Auggie and his community learn about friendship and acceptance.
Palacio worked as an art director and graphic designer for more than 20 years before she was inspired to write Wonder, her first novel. Writing the book helped Palacio understand how she should have treated the little girl at the ice-cream shop. “It made me realize that talking to people is better than running away,” she says. Now she’s spreading that message by using her book to promote the impact of kindness. Palacio has launched an anti-bullying program. Thousands of kids have pledged to help end bullying on choosekind.tumblr.com. On October 10, classrooms across the country celebrated Auggie’s birthday as part of National Bullying Prevention Month.
For creating a fictional character that’s made a real impact on kids around the country, R.J. Palacio is a nominee for TFK’s 2012 Person of the Year.