Another Wonder from Polacco

Once again mining her memories, Patricia Polacco presents a tender story of how she came to trust in her own abilities. As in previous picture books (Thank You, Mr. Falker and Junkyard Wonders), it’s a caring teacher who helps the young protagonist on her way to self-confidence. Mr Wayne's Masterpiece by Patricia Polacco

In Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, Trisha tells us how terrified she is to stand up and speak before an audience. In the opening scene, her teacher, Mr. T., gently encourages her to read her essay to the class. After some painfully silent moments, he relents and lets her return to her seat. Polacco’s full-page pencil-and-marker image of the wide-eyed, frightened girl reveals her inner turmoil and irrational fear.

Luckily, that teacher doesn’t give up; instead, he chooses a roundabout way to help Trisha get past her anxiety by getting her to help the drama teacher, Mr. Wayne, prepare for the upcoming winter play. At first, she helps paint the scenery flats for Musette in the Snow Garden,  jokingly referred to by its author –Mr. Wayne– as a masterpiece. As Trish spends more and more time building the sets, she hears the cast rehearse and learns the words to all the parts.

Soon, whenever an actor forgets or fumbles a line, Trisha becomes the prompter. She likes that role, especially since she doesn’t have to get out on the stage.

But when the girl playing the main character suddenly moves away, Trisha is confronted with a fearful choice: Does she replace the actor or let the play fall apart? Trisha finds she’s not really alone. Mr. Wayne works with her individually, praising her good memory and giving her pointers on breathing and moving. “Patricia, let the play take you.”

And that’s just what she does. Many older-elementary children, especially those experiencing stage fright or shyness, will relate to this joyous story with its triumphant protagonist. Teachers preparing to introduce a play will want to read this aloud in a group setting, and parents should pick this up if they want to reassure a child who’s afraid of performing before a crowd. And as usual, you can rely on Polacco to show classrooms resonant with personality and ethnic diversity.

See also …

my previous post on The Blessing Cupas well as the post on Junkyard Wonders and other anti-bullying books. And consider these books by Patricia Polacco:

Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia PolaccoThe Butterfly by Patricia PolaccoArt of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco


Blessings Keep Flowing

Blessing Cup by Patricia PolaccoA quarter-century after the publication of The Keeping Quilt, readers can rejoice that prolific author/illustrator Patricia Polacco has delved again into her family history and graced us with a companion piece to her beloved picture book.

Using the same first-person narrative technique she used in her earlier book, Polacco takes us back to the humble shtetl in Russia where her ancestors lived before they immigrated to the U.S. To evoke that earlier time, she gives us a multitude of realistic drawings done in pencil and markers and tellingly reserves bright reds and blues for such significant details as the tea set, great-grandmother Anna’s scarf (which, in The Keeping Quilt, shows up in the quilt’s border), and the flames that destroy their temple.

Forced to flee their village, the family can bring only a few items: Papa’s sewing machine, his tallis and holy books, the menorah, and the shofar. Mama lovingly packs the brightly painted tea set that was a special wedding present. She recalls her generous aunt’s message inside: “This tea set is magic. Anyone who drinks from it has a blessing from God.”

As they continue their arduous journey from Russia, Mama reassures her children by reminding them: “We shall always know love, and as long as we are together we shall never be poor.” They sleep in cold barns, share bread, and pass the cup from one to another.

The bitter cold, however, ravages Papa’s lungs, and as they enter a new town, he can pull the family’s cart no longer. Mama runs to find a doctor, who, wondrously, offers to make him well and to welcome the family into his own home. In time, Papa heals, and Dr. Pushkin pays their passage to America. Mama wonders how they can somehow repay him for his kindness.

She settles on the perfect gift: the precious tea set — minus one cup so the family can still have its blessing.

The family reaches the U.S. at last, but the story does not end there. The symbolic journey Polacco explores is authentic and memorable: How does a family shares its true wealth–its treasures of love, culture, faith, and heritage? Children ages 8 to 12 can find much to ponder in this richly told story. As can we adults.

Also consider the titles below and my post on The Junkyard Wonders

Keeping Quilt by Patricia PolaccoBabushka Baba Yaga by Patricia PolaccoPink and Say by Patricia Polacco

What’s With the Eggs?

As I peruse the Easter displays at local bookstores, I’m reminded once again of the scarcity of excellent picture books relating to this holy day for Christians. In many ways, the egg, with its promise of life — or at least protein for sustaining the living — is a fitting symbol of Easter. Here’s a trio of terrific egg books that educators and families can use to celebrate the day.

San Souci, Robert D. The Talking Eggs. illus. by Jerry Pinkney. Dial, 1989. Ages 6-9. 
This folktale was such a favorite with second-graders, I made it a tradition to read it aloud each year just before Easter. A Louisiana Creole version of the Cinderella story, it’s a rich brew of magic and poetic justice.  Way long ago, there lived in a shack a haughty woman and her daughter, Rose, and stepdaughter, Blanche. Rose took after her lazy, mean-spirited mother, but Blanche was “sweet and kind and sharp as forty crickets.”  One day Blanche set off to fetch water for the others, and she met a strange old woman who asked her for water. Blanche politely offers her a drink and is invited to visit the old woman’s house. Before she gets there, though, the old woman tells her she must promise not to laugh at anything she sees. When she reaches the woman’s house, Blanche sees strange, multicolored animals and a chicken house full of talking eggs. Because Blanche treats the woman respectfully and does exactly as she asks, she is rewarded with eggs that contain gold! silver! rubies! silk and satin and even a carriage to take her home in style.

Of course, when she arrives, Rose and her mother lust after those riches. The mother tells Rose she must seek out the old woman. Rose, however, acts rude and lazy when she encounters her, and her reward turns out to be very different. Pinkney’s vivid, detailed full-page illustrations won the Caldecott Honor, and add much humor to this folktale. Kindness triumphs — and makes for a read-aloud that every child should hear.

Polacco, Patricia. Rechenka’s Eggs. Putnam, 1996. Ages 6-9. In the Ukrainian tradition, Easter is the time for showing off brightly painted eggs.  Babushka lives alone in her cottage in the country, outside of Moscow. Everyone admires her beautiful Easter eggs that she paints every winter and brings to the big Easter festival in Moscow. One day she rescues a wounded goose she names Rechenka, and nurses her back to health. Rechenka accidentally breaks Babushka’s eggs, and the elderly woman is dismayed. Rechenka, though, surprises her by laying 12 magnificent, decorated eggs in their place. Babushka takes the eggs to Moscow and wins another prize. When she returns, she finds the goose has flown but has left one her one last egg, which, when hatched, will become her companion. Polacco’s vibrant, detailed paintings, showing off the intricate patterns of  Ukrainian-style Easter eggs, as well as colorful dresses, rugs, and the city’s onion-shaped domes, bring this tale to life. Winner of the International Reading Association Children’s Book Award. For another beloved Easter classic, consider Polacco’s Chicken Sunday.

Aston, Dianna Hutts. An Egg is Quiet. illus. by Sylvia Long. Chronicle, 2006.  Ages 4-6.

“It sits there, under its mother’s feathers… on top of its father’s feet… buried beneath the sand. Warm. Cozy.” Aston captures the astounding variety of eggs with a simple format of offering brief, poetic statements, followed by details and gorgeous illustrations. Sylvia Long, whose Mother Goose book is one of the very best available, lends her remarkable talents to this nonfiction book. Her lovely watercolor paintings of 60 eggs range from tiny hummingbird eggs, to tubular dogfish eggs, and gloppy frog eggs. This book is a wonder to behold and lends itself well to science lessons for the young. Another use? Plop this treat into a child’s Easter basket.

Ukrainian Easter eggs

Image via Wikipedia

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