R.J. Palacio extends the world of her blockbuster Wonder in her first graphic novel, White Bird, which tells the story of Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère, during W W II. In The Sun Is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon explores the romance, which takes place over the course of one day, between two teenagers from different immigrant backgrounds who meet in New York City. We talked to both authors about growing up, coming-of-age, and reckoning with the past in their new books, as well as about adapting their stories to new formats—in Palacio’s case, a graphic novel, and in Yoon’s, a feature film.

R.J. Palacio On Coming of Age as an Immigrant

This is Grandmères coming-of-age story. What is she trying to teach her grandson?

Grandmère first tells her story about being a young Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied France in “The Julian Chapter.” She tells that story to her grandson, Julian, in an effort to reach him because it’s obvious to her that he’s stuck in a bad place. He doesn’t understand, or isn’t open to seeing, how his actions have hurt other people around him. He, abetted by his parents, actually sees himself as the hero of the story, not the bully. He sees, for the first time, his own actions mirrored in the actions of the bullies in Grandmère’s story.

On Adapting the Story to a New Medium

Why did you decide to try the graphic novel format and how did it help you bring the characters to life?

When you write, you describe characters physically with words, but you can only really do that as those descriptions help to propel the narrative. Illustrating a graphic novel, though, allows me to go further with my descriptions. It allows me to explore facial expressions and get specific about clothes, and colors, and light and shadow—without having to describe any of that with words. It’s very freeing, not having to describe characters.

On What the Past Can Teach Us

The past is the rudder to the future. We use it to steer us forward. Without it, we’d be going in circles, or hopelessly adrift. The past teaches us where to go based on where we’ve been, and warns us where not to go based on where we’ve gone. Our ability to remember, both collectively as a species and individually as a person, is what makes us human.

Nicola Yoon On Coming of Age as an Immigrant

Growing up as an immigrant has its own set of concerns. How did you draw from your own experience to write this story?
I was 11 years-old when I first moved to America. I remember missing Jamaica intensely and also desperately wanting to fit into America. For me, being an immigrant meant that I needed to become comfortable existing in between worlds. In the book, both Natasha and Daniel struggle with these feelings in their own ways.

On Adapting the Story to a New Medium

How did the film come about and what role have you played in its adaptation?

The story of the adaptation is kind of wild. While Warner Bros was still making Everything, Everything, the company’s president called me to say he’d read and loved The Sun Is Also a Star and that he wanted to make it. I remember he asked me what I thought. In my head fireworks were going off. In real life I just said, “Okay,” because I was too flabbergasted to be eloquent.

On What the Past Can Teach Us

One of my favorite quotes is, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” by L.P. Hartley from The Go-Between. I think we can learn a lot from the past, but we can’t learn everything. There’s a tendency to romanticize the past and also a tendency to demonize it. As ever, the truth is more complicated.

Currently Reading: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong.

Favorite Book as a Kid and Teen: The Little Prince has been my favorite pretty much
across the ages.

"Book to Screen: Nicola Yoon with Alafair Burke, Eoin Colfer, and David Levithan 2:45–3:30 p.m. // Room 1E14

“Middle Grade Blowout: R.J. Palacio with Evangeline Lilly, Alyssa Milano, and Rachel Renée Russell” 10:30-11:15 a.m. // Room 1E1