Go! Latinos Magazine had the privilege to speak with Colombian-American R.J. Palacio, the author of the New York Times bestseller Wonder, the amazing story of Auggie, the ordinary boy with the extraordinary face who inspired a worldwide movement and an acclaimed Hollywood movie.
“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind,” said Mr. Browne at the start of the school year at Beecher Prep, where Auggie (August) Pullman, a kid with a craniofacial condition, was about to start his transition from homeschooling to middle school. Although the quote is originally from Dr. Wayne D. Dyer, it perfectly describes the theme of kindness and tolerance that made Wonder resonate with so many people around the world.
Raquel Jaramillo Palacio, a first-generation American of Colombian ancestry, was inspired to write Wonder as an outsider when she found herself and her kid near a little girl with a very difficult craniofacial difference and her son’s reaction was very abrupt. “I wrote the book out of that experience. It made me wonder what it must be like for that child, facing a world every day that doesn’t know how to face her back,” she said.
That same night, she started to write. It took her about a year and a half to finish what became one of the New York Times bestseller for five years in a row. Wonder received numerous national and international awards and inspired a Hollywood movie featuring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Trembley, which hit the box office last fall and was an immediate success worldwide. “In Brazil the movie outsold even Star Wars,” R.J. Palacio mentioned.
Most importantly, the power of Wonder encouraged the awareness campaign Choose Kind, a phenomenon that is challenging the world, and has been implemented nationwide through community reads and a Kindness Program for teachers. In many ways, R.J. Palacio became an advocate for children who have craniofacial differences and other conditions by teaching a simple concept: how to confront discomfort around difference and how to choose kindness.
Wonder also inspired an anti-bullying movement, “many communities have been able to choose the book, and now the movie, as a reference to talk about when bullying is a problem. It has become a way to defeat the culture of bullying and rediscover the power of character and empathy among children,” she added.
Palacio, who defines her debut novel as “a meditation on kindness,” claims part of her storytelling is due to her Latino heritage and many of the characters are based on her own experience as a Latina mother. “My style of parenting is based on the way I was raised. In the movie and the book Isabel’s mom is Brazilian.
Isabel (Julia Roberts) has a very Latin way of mothering. What I mean by that is that I’m a little overprotective, I kiss a lot, I hug a lot, I’m very affectionate and that’s part of who I am. I was raised by Colombian parents who were unconditional in their love.”
Lastly, she sent a message of kindness and support to the Latino community that might be going through a difficult time. “Unfortunately, we are living in a time when bullying isn’t being experienced just in schools, but at a much higher level, in the government and even with our president. I’m hoping that common decency and kindness will overwhelm what we are seeing right now which is outrageous in terms of the targeting of the Latino community. Hang in there, things will get better if we stay together,” she concluded.
Haz clic para leer en Español: Wonder nos enseña a cómo ser Amables, cuando sentimos incomodidad en torno a la diferencia