Wonder: Is Auggie Pullman Based on a Real Kid?

Image Credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

Starring Jacob Tremblay in the lead role, ‘Wonder’ follows the story of a 10-year-old boy named August “Auggie” Pullman, who has a craniofacial deformity. He has been through many surgeries since his birth, and while it has changed his face a lot, he still looks different from others. Things change when his mother decides that he should stop being homeschooled and go to a proper school. By far, Auggie had been sheltered at home, and he would always go out with a space helmet he’d received as a Christmas gift. Now, he has no masks to hide behind, and at school, he encounters bullies who make fun of him. But he also meets great kids with whom he becomes friends. Auggie’s story is utterly heartwarming, sending out a lesson of kindness and bravery. It was an incident that warranted kindness and bravery that led to the creation of this story and the character of Auggie.

Auggie Pullman’s Story Came Out of a Real Incident

‘Wonder’ is based on the book of the same name by RJ Palacio. The story and all the characters are entirely fictional, but the idea to write the book came to Palacio after a very real incident, which is subtly mentioned in the film. The author revealed that six years before the publication of the book, she was at an ice cream store with her 3-year-old son. Next to them was a little girl who had a severe facial deformity, and seeing her, Palacio’s son started crying. Flustered by her kid’s reaction, she left the ice cream shop in a hurry. It was later, at home, that she reflected on her reaction and how it would have made the girl feel. Moreover, she was angry at herself for having missed an opportunity to teach her kids a valuable life lesson about kindness and how we shouldn’t treat people differently because they don’t look like us.

Palacio started writing the book the same day and was immediately clear about Auggie’s character. She didn’t personally know anyone who would be familiar with the protagonist’s condition. To get a better sense of her protagonist’s situation, she dived into research about facial abnormalities. This helped her under Auggie as well as the girl from the ice cream shop. A similar research was conducted by actor Jacob Tremblay, who plays Auggie in the movie. He reached out to kids with facial differences, and the conversations with them helped the young actor educate his performance. He exchanged letters with them, visited them, and attended a “really fun” retreat for kids with facial differences, all of which he tapped into while getting into his character.

While Palacio didn’t have a real child as her inspiration when writing the novel, she later met a boy named Nathaniel Newman, whom she called “Auggie Pullman come to life.” Nathaniel has Treacher Collins syndrome and has been through several surgeries over time. Much like Auggie, he also felt intimidated on the first day of middle school. When he and his family read ‘Wonder,’ they connected with it so deeply that his father wondered if the author had been spying on them. Later, Nathaniel and his family met Palacio and Jacob Tremblay. When the author saw Nathaniel, she felt as if Auggie had come out of the pages of her book.

Later, Nathaniel revealed that he had used the book as a reference to explain the syndrome to people. The way he and millions of other readers have connected with the story and Auggie over the years is what Palacio intended from the story. She is glad that the message of being kind has resonated with the readers, and Auggie, despite being fictional, became a real, grounded force for the readers.

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