The idea for Wonder came to Palacio in the autumn of 2007. On a trip outside New York with her two young sons she came across a little girl who, she is now fairly certain, had Treacher-Collins syndrome, a rare hereditary condition that assaults the features but leaves the child perfectly normal in every other way. What alarmed Palacio, though, was not so much the girl's appearance as her own reaction to it. 'I panicked,' she grimaces. 'I was thinking in terms of the little girl's feelings, and I was really afraid my three-year-old would do what he did at Hallowe'en, which was scream when he got scared. I got up from the bench as though a bee had stung me, flipped the stroller around, and called my older son, who was coming out of the store with chocolate shakes. The shakes went flying, and my son is going, "Mum, why are we leaving so quickly?" and I heard the girl's mum say, in the calmest voice possible, "OK guys, I think it's time to go." It was horrible, just horrible. My heart broke for this woman and for this girl, for whom this must happen a million times each day.'
On the car journey home to Brooklyn, Palacio recalls, 'I could not stop thinking about how the scene had played out. What could I have done differently? Is there something you can do to prepare your kids for moments like that? Was I not teaching my kids something they should have known?'
When Natalie Merchant's song Wonder popped up on the radio, a song honouring a child with a disability, 'Things just collided in my mind,' Palacio says. 'The first line came to me, and the whole premise of the novel. The book wrote itself.'
(Read the full interview at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/9086974/Interview-with-RJ-Palacio-author-of-Wonder.html)
Treacher Collins syndrome is a rare, condition affecting the way the face develops — especially the cheekbones, jaws, ears and eyelids. These differences often cause problems with breathing, swallowing, chewing, hearing and speech.
How severe the is varies widely from child to child. Treacher Collins syndrome is present when a baby is born (congenital).
Treacher Collins syndrome happens in about 1 in 50,000 newborns worldwide.
Treacher Collins syndrome happens because of a change (mutation) in a that affects how a baby’s face develops before birth.
(Adapted from http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/chromosomal-genetic-conditions/treacher-collins/)