Friday, July 6, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: R.J.Palacio, Bear and Beau!

Being in the library business as I am, I hear a lot of pre-pub "buzz" and hype on new books coming out--some of it ultimately disappointing. Not so with R.J. Palacio's heartfelt, uplifting, and beautifully realized debut novel, Wonder. I was relieved to read in a recent article that it's "a children's book that's making grown men cry." I was sobbing as I read the last third of the book on a flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake City. Thank goodness is was at night and the cabin was dark! Palacio's book is also being compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. But just between you and me, I think Wonder is the better book.

Wonder recounts a year in the life of ten-year-old August, as he grapples with a huge change in his life: he's entering public school for the first time. Auggie is just like any other kid: he loves Star Wars, and his dog Daisy, and rides his bike and plays games on his XBox. But Auggie has one thing that other kids don't have: a severely deformed face. As Auggie says on the first page, "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." It is that kind of gut-punching, yet simple honesty that makes not just Auggie but all of the character's in this book so absolutely true and memorable. There are so many Moments in this book--moments of humor, moments of cruelty, moments of heartbreak, and moments of joy. And most importantly, there are moments of great kindness. R.J. described Wonder as a "meditation on kindness." Do you know how happy that makes me? With the plethora of books depicting kids (usually in a dystopic future) as brutal survivors, a book that celebrates choosing kindness is beyond refreshing. It's essential.

U.K cover
The author was inspired to write Wonder by a little girl and a song. About five years ago, Palacio and her two young sons were in an ice-cream parlor, and found themselves sitting next to a little girl who had severe facial deformaties. When her three-year-old son saw the girl's face, he began to cry, rather loudly. "I got us up as quickly as I could to remove us from the scene," Palacio recounts. "Not for my sons' sakes but to spare the little girl's feelings. As I pushed my youngest son's stroller  away I heard the little girl's mom say, in as sweet and calm a voice as you can imagine, 'Okay, guys, I think it's time to go.' And that just got me." She thought and thought about that scene as she and her sons drove home. Then, on the radio, she heard Natalie Merchant's song, "Wonder." The magic was triggered. By the time she got home, the book had pretty much written itself in her head.

R.J. Palacio has worked in publishing all her adult life. She's worked for a long time as an art director and book jacket designer at a major publishing house. And still does! She lives in New York City with her husband (who's also in publishing), two sons, and her two dogs, Bear and Beau. Oh, and she also has a wonderful literary agent, who just happens to be the same one I have. Let's meet R.J. and Bear and Beau in today's Fido and Friend in Five!

1. How did you and your dogs find each other?

Bear and Beau
My younger son and I first saw Bear in an adoption van in our neighborhood. There were at least six other puppies there, but I really just fell in love with Bear. I knew the last thing my husband and I planned on getting was a new dog, though, so I found the wherewithal to walk away without even inquiring as to its name or ID number. Later that day I happened to mention to my husband that I fell in love with a dog on the adoption van around the corner, and he went to look. Out of the seven puppies there, he knew exactly which one was the one I had fallen in love with. But he had the wherewithal to walk away from the van, too. We didn't want a new dog. The next day he woke up saying that he couldn't stop thinking about the puppy we had seen. It was meant to be ours. We tracked down the van: it belonged to the North Shore Animal League. When we called them up, though, they said they had no way of knowing what puppy we were talking about. We described him, and they said they had dozens of puppies that looked just like what we were describing. So my husband drove an hour and half away to the North Shore Animal League to see if he could find the puppy we had both fallen in love with, at separate times, knowing the odds were against us because a) he had probably already been adopted, and b) if he wasn't, he was probably on another adoption van somewhere in NYC. Luckily, our little puppy hadn't been adopted, and my husband found him there, as if he'd been waiting for us the whole time. We named him Bear because he looked like a little black bear cub.

Beau was a little easier. I got him from a breeder. He's easily the sweetest dog I've ever had in my life.

2. What makes Bear and Beau's tails wag?
Odysseus & Argos
Us. My kids. Being around anyone who wants to kiss them and play with them.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?

Hmm, that's a tough question. My favorite dog story of all time is the story of Argos and Odysseus. Argos was the dog he left behind as a puppy, and twenty years later, when Odysseus returns to Ithaca disguised as a beggar, Argos is the only one who recognizes him. The dog, now beyond old, has only enough strength to raise his head and wag his tail in recognition of his beloved master, and then he dies. 

4. If Bear and Beau could change just one thing about you, what would that be?
That I would take them on longer walks. 

5. In just five words, tell us what Bear and Beau mean to you:
They bring me much joy.

Thank you so much to the amazing R.J. Palacio for taking time out of her busy schedule for being on Fido and Friend with Bear and Beau. Truly, you must read Wonder. And check out her website to view a trailer for the book and find out other exciting news!