Patricia Polacco

Author/Illustrator Study

About Patricia...

Patricia Polacco resides in Union City, Michigan. She lived for a while in Oakland, California as a child, and spent summers in Michigan with her father and grandmother. Polacco was born to parents of Russian extraction and comes from a family of storytellers. Many of her stories are based on her family history. She has a way of capturing the many differences between cultures as well as ways to lump those cultures together into one heart-warming story. Through her writing, Polacco also teaches the reader the importance of facing adversity, loving and supporting others, and following your dreams. She showed an interest in art at a very young age and now proceeds to illustrate all of the books that she writes.

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Thunder Cake

Summary: Patricia was afraid of the thunderstorms that rolled across the sky when she stayed with her grandma in Michigan. Patricia’s grandma helped her face her fear of thunderstorms by making a thunder cake. She had to go outside as the storm neared to gather the ingredients for the cake before the storm reached their house. Patricia’s grandma taught her that she was brave for doing all the things she had done to gather ingredients and that no one that brave should be afraid of a sound.


Application: This book would be appropriate for K-2 students who are afraid of thunderstorms, especially while they are at school. It could be read on days that intense storms are expected to teach students about being brave. Teachers can design their own types of “recipes” or activities that students will do during the storm in order to keep them at ease.

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My Ol' Man

Summary: Patricia tells of one summer she spent in Michigan with her Gramma and father, Da. Da always tells Patricia and her brother great stories when he gets home from work. One day he finds a magic rock and the whole family is amazed. When Da loses his job, he almost has to sell his car. The family hopes things will get better, when one day Da is offered a job at a radio station to tell his amazing stories.


Application: This book addresses Patricia’s family situation: her parents are divorced so she spends summers with her dad and grandma in Michigan. This would be a great book for K-2 to help students become aware of different types of families. It also addresses a time in Patricia’s life where her family did not have a lot of money. There are likely to be students in similar family situations at any school, so this book will help teachers show students that that is okay. Another lesson taught in this story is the importance of having hopes and dreams. It was Da’s hopes and dreams that kept him going in tough times. This story teaches children to not give up on their dreams and to always have hope even when things get tough.

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Appelemando's Dream

Summary: Appelemando lives in a drab village with nothing to do there, but he loved to dream. Appelemando’s friends could see his dreams and loved to sit and watch as he dreamt. One day, Appelemando’s dreams got out of hand and covered the whole village in color. The villagers thought the children were being reckless and sent them to scrub the village. The children got lost, and the only thing that saved them was Appelemando’s ability to dream. From there, the villagers loved his dreams!


Application: This book would be beneficial in a K-2 classroom to teach children that their dreams are important, no matter what others say. It also teaches children how important it is to be a good friend. They should be encouraging and let their friends know that they believe in and support them. True friends will stand by each other no matter what the circumstances. This book could also be used in art classes because it is so full of artistic vocabulary. Polacco uses words such as hue, shapes, and texture to describe Appelemando’s dreams. This would provide a great vocabulary foundation for upper-elementary students.

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The Art of Miss Chew

Summary: Patricia spent a summer with her grandmother and father in Michigan, where she discovered her love for art. When she came home to California she could not wait to take art in school, however she was not a good test taker. She loved school and had a great teacher from Ireland who allowed her more time to take her tests. Her test scores improved. Her teacher, Mr. Donovan, noticed how great of an artist Patricia was and got her enrolled in a special art program at the high school with Miss Chew. Miss Chew taught Patricia how to speak the language of art. Patricia was particularly good at recognizing negative space. Mr. Donovan’s father passed away and Patricia’s class had a substitute teacher, Mrs. Spaulding. Mrs. Spaulding would not allow Patricia to have extra time on her tests and threatened to make Patricia stop attending the art program do that she would have more time to study. Miss Chew would not allow Patricia to be taken from the art program and so she took Patricia to see a reading specialist. Mr. Donovan returned and Patricia was allowed to stay in the art program, and one of her paintings was shown in the art show. It was a painting of Mr. Donovan’s father whom had died. When Mr. Donovan saw the painting he could not speak. He and Miss Chew thought her painting was beautiful. This moment was a present; it was a defining moment in Patricia’s life. This was the moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist.


Application: This book could be read aloud to K-2 students to encourage them that it is okay if they are not good at everything they do. They need to find what they are passionate about and pursue that passion, just as Patricia did with her art. It is important for students to realize that teachers care about and want to support them as Mr. Donovan and Miss Chew did for Patricia. This book also provides a great example of how students can have an impact on others. They may realize that what they love doing has a greater purpose and creates more meaningful rewards than material things; they have an impact on other people.

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Chicken Sunday

Summary: Stewart and Winston were Patricia’s neighbors whom she considered to be brothers to her. She sometimes went to church with them and their gramma, Miss Eula. Miss Eula dreamed of owning the Easter bonnet that sat in the window of Mr. Kodinski’s hat shop, and the children wanted to get it for her more than anything. They did not have enough money, however, but wanted to help Mr. Kodinski in his shop in order to earn enough money for the bonnet. They are falsely accused of throwing eggs at Mr. Kodinski’s shop and want to show him that they are good people, so they painted eggs in beautiful colors to give to Mr. Kodinski. He was very thankful and got to know the children. There was no work for them at the store, but he had them set up a table and sell their Easter eggs to the public. They made enough money for the hat at the end of one day of selling. Before the children could tell Mr. Kodinski that they wanted to buy the bonnet, he gave it to them and said that he said seen Miss Eula admire the hat before. They gave Miss Eula the hat on Easter Sunday and she was so thankful.


Application: This book could be used in a K-2 classroom to teach children about acceptance, trust, and love. It shows although someone is a different ethnicity, culture, or has beliefs not similar to yours, you should still treat that person with kindness and extend your love to them because you do not know what they are going through. This book would be beneficial to read to a class who is struggling with respecting their peers who look or behave differently than they do. Also, if students are ever having issues where they are being blamed of things they did not do, this book shows that sometimes they need to be the bigger person and prove their goodness and gain the trust of those around.

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John Philip Duck

Summary: Edward was a boy who lived on a small farm outside of Memphis, Tennessee. There was a depression at the time and Edward and his father worked at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. He finds a baby duck one day and decides to keep it, taking it to work with him at the hotel. Edward and the staff hide the duck from the manager, Mr. Schutt, until one day the duck, John Philip Duck, gets mixed up with live hunting ducks. Edward does all he can to keep the ducks in the hotel. He ends up becoming the Peabody Duckmaster and holds that position for 50 years.


Application: This book would be great for teaching K-2 students the importance of persistence. It is important that children are learning at a young age not to give up on a goal that they have, or on something that they are passionate about. This book is also great for a study on relating text to real-life situations because it is based on a true story of the legendary ducks of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Students will learn that keeping a good work ethic and trying their best at something will help them be successful.