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.
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.
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