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Patricia Polacco - Bio-Critical Analysis
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Patricia Polacco - Bio-Critical Analysis

Patricia Polacco is a talented writer and illustrator who uses her own life experiences to share stories with her many readers. Many of her stories reflect on memories of her childhood, when she grew up on her grandparent's farm in Michigan and in her family's house in California. Readers are easily able to relate to her work because she shares in things that could happen to anyone, such as being teased, having an annoying sibling, or spending quality time with her family and friends.

In the story "My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother", Polacco writes about her annoyance with her older brother Richard. Patricia is tired of her brother always being able to beat her at things and then bragging about it. She wishes that just once she could be the best at something - anything! Richard can run faster, spit farther, burp louder, and climb higher than Patricia. One night, while sitting and visiting with her grandmother, she learns how to wish on a falling star. Of course, her wish is to find something that she can be the best at. The following day, a traveling carnival comes to town, and Patricia finally discovers what she can best her brother at; riding the merry-go-round! She is able to stay on it longer than Richard can. But, when she finally gets off, she falls and is cut by some broken pop bottles. Richard carries her home and runs to fetch Dr. Lee. Patricia realizes that maybe her brother isn't so bad after all!

Publisher's Weekly says, "Polacco's flair for storytelling shines in this tale filled to the brim with a family's anecdotes. The text rings true with the authentic battling words of childhood spats." Polacco tells the story in simple language and actions that children can understand. She shares her feelings about her brother and readers can easily relate to her plight. Her writing style is inviting and the story reads smoothly and is heartfelt. Jan Liberman of Children's Literature writes, "the poses and facial expressions are so child-like that they highlight the universality of this story of relationships."

In the story "Chicken Sunday", Patricia and her two childhood friends, Stewart and Winston, sell "pysansky" eggs to earn money. Based on her childhood memories of her best friend, Stewart Grinnell Washington, they hope to use the money to buy his grandmother - Miss Eula Mae - an Easter hat that she has admired from Mr. Kodinski's hat shop. The story is titled "Chicken Sunday'" because fried chicken, collard greens, corn on the cob, hoppin' john, and fried spoon bread was the meal Miss Eula Mae made after church on Sundays. The story shares how PAtricia and her friends show thoughtfulness and determination to show someone they care for them. Lee Bock of the "School Library Journal" writes, "dominant themes of trust and acceptance are beautifully expressed with Polacco's signature illustrations." Polacco approaches the story from a chil's point of view and shares her experiences growing up in California. When you are reading the story, you will notice that the picture frames in Miss Eula Mae's house contain real pictures of Stewart;s family, personalizing the story for the author. The dialogue of the story is very natural and suited to the characters. The mood of the text mirrors the feelings and emotions of a real child from excitement, to fright about getting into trouble, to relief about being able to sell the eggs to buy Miss Eula Mae the hat. In a starred review by Dorothy Houlihan of the "School Library Journal", the author states, "Polacco's tale resonates with the veracity of a personal recollection and is replete with vivid cisual and visceral images." Many of Polacco's stories explore the relationships between different generations and cultures.

Another story that explores this kind of relationship detween different generations is "Thundercake". This story relates Patricia's memories of growing up on her grandparent's farm in Union City, Michigan. The text explains how Patricia's grandmother, or 'Babushka", helps her overcome her fear of summer thunderstorms. As a storm rumbles in the distance, Babushka distracts Patricia from the events outside by asking her to help her make a "Thundercake". The thundercake is a special recipe for her grandmother's luscious chocolate cake. She goes with Patricia to gather eggs from '"mean old nellie peck hen", milk from "old kick cow", chocolate, sugar, and flour from the dry shed, and tomatoes and strawberries from the trellis. Babushka shows Patricia that she can't be afraid of a little old thunderstorm, because look at all the other brave things she did to get the ingredients for the cake! This story is another example of a tale that involves a topic familiar to most children - being afraid of a thunderstorm! The reviews of this story are mixed. Publisher's Weekly says, "although the book's concept is good, it does not fulfill its promise." However, Debra Bridtico of "Children's Literature" disagrees. She writes, "bright folk art illustrations help Polacco present a convincing tale that turns a frightening experience into an adventure and celebration."

"Thank You, Mr. Falker", is another story based on Polacco's childhood. It relates the story of Trisha, and how she struggles with reading in the fifth grade. Trisha was always teased about her reading by other kids. Her teacher, Mr. Falker, understood and got her the help she need to oversome her learning disablility - dyslexia. The reader relates to the story because at one time or another in their life, every child has been teased about something and had their feelings hurt. Once again, Polacco uses language that can be understood by the youngest and oldest of readers. She has a style that conveys deep emotion and detail, baring feelings that are had by everyone at some time in their life. Publisher's Weekly says, " Young readers struggling with learning difficulties will identify with Trisha's situation and find reassurance in her success".

To hear the stories "Thank You ,Mr. Falker " - read by actress Jane Kaczmarek and "My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother" - read by actress Melissa Gilbert, please visit

http://www.bookpals.net/storyline

Patrica Polacco's stories reflect not only her childhood, but also her Russian heritage, a large influence on her. Many of her works include her "Babushka", or grandmother and tell how she was such a powerful force in her life. Her grandmother was the storyteller of the family and gathered Patricia and her brother around the fireplace for a session of "firetalking". Here she would relate fascinating stories of her family in the Old World and their culture. These special gatherings are reflected in Polacco's stories "The Keeping Quilt" and "Rechenka's Eggs", among many others.
Polacco's illustrations have an easily recognizable style due to her choice of medium: usually marking pens and pencils. She has also used some collage in the stories "My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother" and "Chicken Sunday". Her illustrations reflect the beauty and sensitivity of her stories. The details and colors that she uses conveys the meaning and moods of the stories she creates: dark, dreary colors for sadness and bright, vivid colors for excitement.

Polacco approaches most of her tales from a very simple point of view - that of a child. She explores emotions and feelings of younger readers. Her stories usually end with a lesson learned such as: compassion, courage, appreciation for others, or determination and perserverance.

Students in my elementary classes have always enjoyed Patricia Polacco's books. They can relate to her childhood stories and are drawn to her wonderfully detailed illustrations. After reading the story "Thundercake" to my second graders, they had the following observations:

"My favorite part of the story "Thundercake" was when she was counting the storms. And I like when she was making the cake. And when the thunder roared!"
- Sonia

"My favorite part of the story "Thundercake" was the thunder because the thunder is so loud!"
-Mirian

"My favorite part of the story "Thundercake" was when she climbed the ladder and picked the strawberries and got to the top."
-Loma

Patricia Polacco's body of work are stories that reach across generations and delight readers of all ages. Her themes of families, friends, and childhood will be fresh and new for many years to come. Readers will look forward to reading about and relating to her life experiences and learning about different cultures!

To hear more from Patricia Polacco about her writing, illustrating, and inspirations, please visit

http://readingrockets.org/transcript.php?ID=13