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Best of the National Book Festival: R.J. Palacio, 2019

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Each weekday, we will feature a video presentation from among the thousands of authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival and as part of our new year-long series, National Book Festival Presents. Mondays will feature topical nonfiction; Tuesday: poetry or literary fiction; Wednesday: history, biography, memoir; Thursday: popular fiction; and Friday: authors who write for children and teens. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection!

The following post was written by Sasha Dowdy and Monica Valentine, program specialists in the Library’s Young Readers Center.

This event from the National Book Festival is especially for children and teens, and this blog post includes prompts for writing and thinking that young readers, families and teachers can use to explore the author and the author’s work. Recommended for ages 7-14.

Today, this series features children’s author R.J. Palacio discussing her picture book “We’re All Wonders” on the Children’s Stage at the 2019 Library of Congress National Book Festival in D.C. Roswell Encina, chief communications officer for the Library of Congress, opens the program and interviews the author who has brought her portrait of empathy, compassion and kindness to millions of readers worldwide.

For more than 20 years, R.J. Palacio was an art director and a graphic designer while waiting for the perfect time in her life to start writing her own novel. A chance encounter several years ago with an extraordinary child made Palacio realize that the perfect time to write that novel had finally come. The wildly popular “Wonder” was her first novel; it has sold more than 5 million copies and been on the New York Times bestseller list since 2012. She did not design the cover, but she does love it. Her other books include “365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts” and “Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories.”

R.J. Palacio’s presentation starts at 00:40, and timestamps for major topics are below:

  • The rationale for focusing on kindness (3:20)
  • Origin of the idea for Mr. Brown’s precepts (7:58)
  • Creating personalities for each of the characters (9:04)
  • Talking to kids about serious subjects (12:52)
  • Message about making mistakes (15:50)
  • Diversity of characters in the book (17:30)
  • Filming “Wonder” (18:39)
  • Q&A from audience begins (22:14)

Writing and Thinking Prompts

  • Have you read “Wonder” or any other works by this author? How have these works changed the way you think about or treat people around you? How has this talk changed the way you think about this author?
  • What surprised you about the author talk? What does it make you wonder about?
  • If you had been at the talk, what would you have asked the author?

6:01: R.J. Palacio explains the difference between being nice and being kind: “We actually have to make a conscious effort to choose to be kind. … It’s one step further.”

  • Think of ways to show kindness to someone you live with and to someone you don’t live with. Practice an act of kindness each day for a week and reflect on the experience. When and how did you choose to be kind?

8:05: When she was a young teen, R.J. Palacio kept a scrapbook of quotes that moved her.

  • Start your own collection of quotes. It may be a notebook or a document on your computer or phone. Try to write down or illustrate one wonderful quote every day and ask yourself what about it inspires you.

16:12: R.J. Palacio describes Julian’s redemption arc. He bullied Auggie because he was afraid of him, his parents let him get away with it, and it took his grandmother’s influence to show him the error of his ways.

  • We have all made mistakes; what matters is what we choose to do after we make one. Think about a time when you were unkind. What made you feel or act that way? What convinced you that you did something wrong, and how did you make it right? If you haven’t yet redeemed yourself, R.J. Palacio would say that it’s not too late to resolve the problem. Can you think of other books or stories that include a character who goes through a redemption arc like Julian’s?

20:35: R.J. Palacio’s favorite precept is “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This is a reminder that “everyone has a story to tell.”

  • Kindness can require both compassion and imagination. Think about your friends: What might they be struggling with, or what might worry them? What worries do you have that other people might not know about? When she created “We’re All Wonders,” R.J. Palacio imagined the thoughts and struggles of Auggie, a fictional character, and communicated his personal story in words and pictures. Is it easier to exercise kindness when you remember that everyone has their own story they are living?

Explore More

In her talk, R.J. Palacio emphasizes the idea that kindness takes effort. Throughout history, there have been many people, both famous and lesser known, who made an effort to be selfless and to help others, more often than not at a huge risk to themselves. Learn about them from the Library of Congress resources below.

  • Learn about Henri (or Henry) Dunant, the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and co-founder of the Red Cross, in this historic newspaper
  • Clara Barton was a nurse, educator and philanthropist, who provided relief services during the U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War in Europe. She is a founder of the American National Red Cross, and is known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.” Read her letters, diaries, writings, scrapbooks and more in the Clara Barton Papers collection, or transcribe them as part of the Library’s crowdsourcing project, By The People
  • Watch an interview with Ndaba Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, about living with and learning from a legendary leader known not only for his vision but also for his compassion
  • Kindness can take place on the public stage or in private. Listen to World War II veteran Theodore Cummings describe the kindness of a fellow sailor in this oral history interview from the Library’s Veterans History Project