Author R J Palacio talks to us about the film adaptation of her children's novel, Wonder (Corgi Chlldren's), which tells the story of August "Auggie" Pullman, a 10-year-old boy with an extremely rare facial deformity.
What can you tell us about the film adaptation of Wonder?
It was a joy to be part of the film, from beginning to end. At the beginning of the process, I was nervous. You feel like you’re literally giving your child, your creation, to other people to raise, so there’s a lot of trust involved. Will these people make the movie that I hope to see? Will they stay true to the book—not just in terms of the characters and plot, but the spirit of the book, the message of kindness? Will they let me be part of the process? We’ve all read stories about authors who end up being cut out of the creative process, or who disavow the movie based on their book. There were a lot of things to worry about, in the beginning. But I’m happy to say that those jitters were put to rest by the producers early on. I knew they loved the book, and wanted to do right by the book. And then they chose Stephen Chbosky, a writer himself, to direct. At that point, I knew Wonder was in the best hands possible. He’s not only a brilliant visionary, but a kind man. The children on the set adored him. He was like the Pied Piper, leading them around the movie set. It was such a great experience watching the film get made.
How involved with the making of the film have you been?
I was much more involved after Stephen was signed on as the director. He would ask my opinion on lots of things—some major, some so minor that only he and I would care. Things like, "what dissertation was Isabel working on when she abruptly quit her university career to devote herself full-time to being Auggie’s mom?". I weighed in on some casting, some dialogue, some scenes. It whetted my appetite for more moviemaking. I hope to direct my own movie someday.
What inspired you to write Wonder? And what message did you want readers to take away from it?
I was inspired to write Wonder after a very brief chance encounter with a child who had a craniofacial difference. I started trying to imagine what it must be like to face a world everyday that’s not sure how to face you back, how it must feel to be the parent or the sibling of a child who gets stared at wherever they go, judged by appearances, treated badly or bullied because of things they can’t help. All parents want the world to be kind to their children, but the parent of a child with any kind of special needs, or with any obvious differences that set them apart is especially mindful of how the world will treat their children. I think, as a parent, there’s a lot of raw emotion when we think about sending our children out into the world. When they’re quite little, we can shield them, if only somewhat. But when they’re about nine or ten, and start to go out on their own, make their own friends, learn to navigate the social conundrums of being in school—who to sit with, who to hang out with—we have to start letting go. That’s one of the really hard parts of parenting: knowing when to let go, when to intervene, when to let them lick their wounds and make their mistakes. It’s hard, this parenting stuff.
Have you been surprised by the success of the story?
Yes. I never imagined that my little book about a boy with a craniofacial difference would be so popular. I honestly thought a few people might read it, including my family and friends, and it would sell 15 copies—at most—and then be forgotten. This has all been a splendid surprise.
Why did you recently release Wonder in a picture book format?
Wonder is for kids ages eight and older, but kids are never too young to learn about kindness. I wanted to be able to hit on those themes in an age-appropriate way—hence the picture book, We’re All Wonders!
Do you think you will ever return to the characters in Wonder?
They live inside of me, so I can’t say no. I just have other books I want to write, too. New worlds to explore. Having said that, I think I may return to a Wonder story sooner than I thought...
What are you working on now?
It’s a surprise!