Press release from Fair Haven School District
She is the writer and illustrator of over 115 books, including Keeping Quilt, Babushka’s Doll, The Dream Keeper, My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Chicken Sunday (a 1994 President’s Commendation Medal winner), and Welcome Comfort. Her Thank You Mr. Falker was awarded the 1999 Best Book Award by the Association of Dyslexic and Learning Disabled Readers — and in 2013, the Library of Congress and the President of the United States recognized her book Pink and Say as one of the best books written for children in the past 100 years.
A wish came true last week, when New York Times bestselling children’s book author Patricia Polacco paid a special two-day visit to the Fair Haven school district.
Students in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades at Knollwood School spent quality time with the author during presentations on April 3, while Polacco’s visit to Viola L. Sickles School on April 4 included lunch with two students chosen by lottery from each third grade class, along with their teachers.
Born into a storytelling family of Russian Jewish immigrants on her mother’s side and Irish immigrants from the County of Limerick on her father’s side, Polacco writes four books a year and never seems to be short on inspiration. For example, Thank You Mr. Falker is based on her experience as a student with learning disabilities — including dyslexia and failure of sensory integration. At Knollwood School, she had a special message for students who struggle with learning issues.
“You are off-the-charts brilliant, trust me,” she said. “Always remember this; we don’t all open up our gifts at the exact same time. You are amazing, all of you, and I want you to promise me you will always lead with your heart – this old lady up here is waiting on you.”
During her presentations, Polacco introduced the Knollwood students to one of her prized possessions – a fist-sized piece of a tiny meteor that landed in the front yard of her grandparents’ farm in Michigan many years ago. Polacco’s first children’s book, “Meteor,” was inspired by her mother’s experience of seeing the townspeople making a wish on the newly fallen meteor – a tradition that continues yearly to this day.
Polacco invited the Knollwood students to make a thoughtful and meaningful wish – “nothing involving money or material things” — on her meteor rock. She also showed them her “Keeping Quilt” fashioned from items belonging to her ancestors. The “Keeping Quilt” is the inspiration behind one of her most beloved books.
The next day, Polacco spent part of her lunch period with star-struck Sickles Staff members, then signed her books for students and teachers and made presentations to Sickles students in Kindergarten through third grades. As she had at Knollwood School, she shared her wishing rock and her “Keeping Quilt” to the delight of the students.
The Sickles School third graders presented a “welcome” gift for Polacco by creating digital Google slides to expressing their admiration and appreciation. In return, Polacco created a piece of original artwork during her visit. A copy of the signed artwork will be made available to all Sickles students.
“I had artistic talent at an early age, but I found myself unable to read or write,” Polacco told the Sickles students during her lunch with them. “As a young student I could not articulate what was wrong, but then my teacher Mr. Falker noticed that I was struggling and hired a reading specialist to help me. I was fourteen years old and had been bullied for years when Mr. Falker intervened and I learned to write, and that’s when everything changed for me. I was finally able to trust my teachers and accomplish what I have in my life. I owe everything to him.”
Polacco noted that her learning disabilities still make it impossible for her to sit still. “I have rocking chairs in every room of my home because that is where I do my best thinking,” she explained. “If I were Queen, every classroom would have rocking chairs!”
Polacco has established a series of lectures designed to encourage students to reach out to one another and to include those who are perceived to be “different.” She has also designed an anti-bullying campaign that earned her national recognition. Many of her books are featured in the curriculum for the “It’s OK to be Different” program teaching respect for individual differences and encouraging inclusion. “It’s OK to be Different” is currently being utilized in Fair Haven and numerous other districts.
The author’s visit was organized by Library Media Specialists Patrice Horan (Knollwood School) and June Sustick (Sickles School) and Kerry Maguire of the Fair Haven PTA and funded by the PTA and the Board of Education.