It’s no ‘Wonder’ R.J. Palacio’s novel sparked a national conversation

Author R.J. Palacio
Author R.J. Palacio

Author R.J. Palacio launched a national conversation about the importance of kindness with her blockbuster 2012 novel “Wonder.”

The acclaimed book tells the story of Auggie, a young boy navigating life with a facial deformity. The best-seller is required reading in many schools and was turned into a motion picture. Her latest work is a graphic novel “White Bird” that further explores the theme of kindness with a character from the “Wonder” universe.

Palacio, who grew up in Queens and graduated from the Parsons School of Design, illustrated the book about a young Jewish girl living in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. That girl is the grandmother of Auggie’s tormentor, Julian.

The Brooklyn-based writer spoke with amNewYork about her new book.

Book cover for "White Bird" by R. J. Palacio
Book cover for "White Bird" by R. J. Palacio Photo Credit: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Q: Is “White Bird” a natural follow-up to “Wonder”?

PALACIO: At its core, it’s a book like “Wonder” about kindness and the impact of kindness…So I wanted to explore what it’s like to try to be kind at times when kindness really could cost you your life. But also I started writing it in January 2017 right after Trump started calling for a Muslim ban and all the words that were being thrown around like bans and deportations and mass roundups of immigrants. Those words have been used before to horrible ends. I was especially concerned about the impact they are having on children who don’t really have the historical context they need to judge and weigh those words.

Q: Are you concerned that many young people may not have studied the Holocaust?

PALACIO: There’s this tremendous disparity between the group of people growing up knowing about the Holocaust and the millions of people who are growing up who don’t learn about the Holocaust because there they weren’t directly affected or they don’t know anyone who was. And that shouldn’t be the case. Everyone needs to be saying never again and preventing anti-Semitism. I thought that a book like “White Bird” really seemed necessary.

Q: Why did you decide to make this book a graphic novel?

PALACIO: I wanted it to be as accessible as possible to as many kids as possible. And I know that there are a lot of reluctant readers out there who just really love graphic novels…My background is in illustration and sometimes I miss drawing. So I thought this was a perfect opportunity for me to sort of do both. Also, it gave me the opportunity to work while still engaging with the world because when I’m writing a novel you kind of have to shut yourself in a room. There is so much going on I felt like I really needed to be connected to the world. Drawing is something that you can do while watching the news at night.