Of the more than 115 books Patricia Polacco has written and illustrated, most have been inspired by her childhood experiences and multicultural Irish, Russian, and Ukrainian Jewish roots. During her recent visit to Schechter, the 73-year-old author – who began writing children’s books when she was 41 – shared with students her social and learning difficulties growing up and the teacher who helped her discover artistic talent. Struggling with dyslexia, Polacco did not learn to read until age 14.
“I turned kids’ bullying me into a story called, Thank you, Mr. Falker, she told a group of Middle School students. “It was based on a teacher who believed in me the way your teachers clearly believe in you.” Despite her rocky start in school, Polacco went on to earn a Ph.D. in Art History, with an emphasis on iconography.
Polacco comes from a family of storytellers, forever encouraging students to “write about what they know”. After her parents divorced, she, her mother, and brother went to live on a Michigan farm with her grandmother, whom they called Babushka, the Russian endearment for grandmother. Her first book, Meteor! and subsequent Thundercake , are based on childhood memories of a meteor shower that occurred in her grandmother’s backyard and overcoming a fear of thunder by baking a special cake while a storm threatens. So was the story of The Keeping Quilt, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries. It is based on a quilt that has been passed down through four generations of the author’s family, each time, being remade into something else: a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a blanket to welcome each new child into the world.
View her captivating interaction with our students: