R. J. Palacio

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Wonder Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on R. J. Palacio's Wonder. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of R. J. Palacio

Palacio was born in Queens, New York City to Colombian immigrant parents. Palacio is her mother's maiden name. She earned a degree in illustration from Parsons School of Design, and after traveling in Europe, returned to New York City. Her first successes came with illustrations published in The Village Voice and The New York Times Book Review. Eventually, Palacio became an art director for book publishing houses, and has designed covers for authors such as Salmon Rushdie and Sue Grafton. She also illustrated some of her own children's books and designed a baby toy during this time. Wonder is loosely based on an experience that Palacio had while out with her two young sons. They saw a young girl with a craniofacial anomaly similar to August's, and Palacio's sons both reacted poorly. This inspired Palacio to explore what life might be like for individuals like that young girl. Palacio has written several books about the characters from Wonder for kids of all ages, and also began the Choose Kind movement, which seeks primarily to promote kindness in schools. Palacio lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two sons, and two dogs.
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Historical Context of Wonder

August has a condition known as Treacher Collins Syndrome, which affects the development of bones and other facial tissues. It's rare for children to be born with it, and in about 60% of cases, there's no family history or known cause. Despite the physical differences and the associated health risks (some people have complications like breathing difficulties or speech problems), TCS doesn't affect intelligence at all and doesn't alter life expectancy. Prior to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was initially passed under a different name in 1975, most students like August were often unable to receive public education. IDEA required that public schools serve all students and created protocols for attending to the needs of differently-abled children in a general classroom setting. Today, many public schools are still not considered to be full-fledged "inclusion" schools. Differently-abled children often spend time in special education classrooms, and there's disagreement as to whether full inclusion, partial inclusion, or separate schools altogether are better for students, differently-abled and "mainstream" kids alike. This debate is what Julian's mom refers to when she insists that Beecher Prep isn't an inclusion school.

Other Books Related to Wonder

Wonder makes a number of references to other works of literature throughout, both in the story itself and in some of the paratextual elements. August mentions Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid on several occasions, while Via spends the fall reading Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Novels such as Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time are on the fifth-grade English syllabus, and Jack's narration begins with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. Other books that share thematic similarities with Wonder in terms of promoting kindness, acceptance, and tolerance of difference include Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind, and Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl.
Key Facts about Wonder
  • Full Title: Wonder
  • When Written: 2011
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction
  • Setting: Upper Manhattan, late 2010s
  • Climax: When Amos, Miles, and Henry stand up for Auggie during the class camping trip
  • Antagonist: Julian Albans
  • Point of View: First person, narrated by August, Via, Jack, Miranda, and Justin

Extra Credit for Wonder

Cher. In the 1984 movie Mask, the singer Cher played the role of a mother of a child with a craniofacial condition similar to August's. Since then, she's remained active in the Children's Craniofacial Association and is currently their national spokesperson. She regularly calls children to check in before and after surgeries and often invites them to her concerts.

Raising Awareness. The Children's Craniofacial Association has embraced Wonder as an essential part of its mission to spread awareness for children with craniofacial anomalies. They facilitate a program that matches classrooms that read Wonder with a "buddy" with a craniofacial anomaly so that students can meet "real-life Auggies" and ask them questions.