Allison's Book Bag

While Waiting for Shakes

Posted on: July 31, 2014

Wonder by RJ Palacio has been a best-seller. It’s been embraced by towns, schools and the craniofacial community. Since Wonder sold to publishers in Britain and America in a three-player auction, foreign language rights have been bought in eight countries so far, film options are in discussion, and the novel is all over the blogosphere. The book has inspired readers to write songs, poems, and chapters from different points of view. Some even celebrate August’s birthday. Tomorrow I’ll post a review. Save the date: August 1!


The Telegraph reveals that R. J. Palacio is not her real name. Born in New York, and raised in a working-class neighborhood, Palacio was surrounded by books. She tried to honor her parents by being good, doing well in school, and achieving her goals. Palacio’s mother used to always remind her that she was a writer. And Palacio wrote her first book, she took her mother’s name as her pen name.

Palacio had long wanted to be a writer, but life would get in the way. And she would let it. When she did write, she stopped when it got tough. Writing wasn’t how she paid the bills. Instead Palacio spent the past twenty years in publishing as a creative director and book jacket designer. In that position, she has designed covers for countless well-known and not so well-known writers in every genre of fiction and nonfiction. Then came the moment when all that changed.


RJPalacioRead any biography or interview with Palacio and it will be easy to find the inspiration for Wonder. About five years ago, Palacio took her sons for ice cream. While her older son went inside to buy us milk shakes, Palacio waited on an outside bench with her younger son who was in a stroller. At a certain point, Palacio noticed a mother and daughter next to her. The little girl had a severe craniofacial difference. When Palacio’s younger son looked up and saw the little girl, he started to cry. Palacio tried to push him away in his stroller to avoid hurting the girl’s feelings. In her haste, she caused her older son to spill the shakes, which resulted in quite the scene. As Palacio and pushed her younger son’s stroller away she heard the little girl’s mom say, “I think it’s time to go.” Readers might find it a point of interest that a version of this scene actually appears in the novel.

On the car drive home with her sons to Brooklyn, Palacio couldn’t stop thinking about how that scene had played out. As a multitude of questions went through her, she also felt disappointed because she had missed a good teaching moment for her kids. She could have engaged mother and the girl in conversation. She could have set a better example, showing her sons there was nothing to fear. Or so she felt. Instead she panicked. When Natalie Merchant’s song Wonder popped up on the radio, a song honoring a child with a disability, the first line came to her for a book and then the whole premise of the novel. The book wrote itself.’

With a fulltime job and family to juggle, Palacio had to be very disciplined about her writing time. Her routine when writing Wonder went like this: come home from work, have dinner with family, help with some homework, watch some television, sleep for a couple of hours, and then wake up around midnight to write when everyone was asleep. She’s the not first author to try this routine, but perhaps one of the few to not find it hard. “I was so into the story and the characters I couldn’t wait to get back to them.”

Sharp Read reports that for her research, Palacio spent a few weeks reading about genetics, specifically craniofacial anomalies in children. She came to the conclusion that the girl at the ice cream store had probably had a severe form of Treacher Collins, which is what she also pictured August as having although she never really identifies it in the book. She didn’t consult doctors regarding August’s medical condition, instead relying on the internet and watching documentaries. Nor did she speak with any families dealing with these issues. Portraying how others responded to August is what seemed most important to her.

I hope that kids will come away with the idea that they are noticed: their actions are noted. Maybe not immediately or directly or even in a way that seems obvious, but if they’re mean, someone suffers. If they’re kind, someone benefits. And the choice is theirs: whether to be noticed for being kind or for being mean. They get to choose who they want to be in this world.  And it’s not their friends and not their parents who make those choices: it’s them.

–RJ Palacio, FAQ


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 127 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: