Spotlight Series: Patricia Polacco
October is Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia Awareness Month. This month at Lexplore, we will spotlight some authors and illustrators who have learning issues and share some favorite books for kids who struggle with reading.
Patricia Polacco is an award-winning author and illustrator who has written more than 115 books. She is dyslexic. As a child, she knew that she learned differently but did not know how to articulate the challenge. She knew she wasn’t dumb but felt like the world believed otherwise. In the early 1950’s, children weren’t assessed for learning disabilities. In high school, an insightful and special teacher realized that Patricia was unable to process information in the typical way. He helped her to realize her potential and to overcome her disability. His belief in her was the first step toward her success.
Many of her books come from family history, triggered by oral stories her Ukrainian grandmother told her as a child. As an author, it is important for her to share multicultural stories. In fact, she often brings characters together from different cultures who learn lessons from one another. Her books also feature multigenerational relationships and how important those connections are. The stories and illustrations combine to bring comfort to the reader. Mrs. Katz and Tush is a Passover story about a beautiful friendship between a young African American boy and an elderly Jewish woman. Thunder Cake is a compassionate story of a grandmother helping her granddaughter overcome fears of thunderstorms. Thank You, Mr. Faulkner, a story of a girl struggling to read, is based on Polacco’s own struggles with dyslexia and how a caring teacher helped her to overcome her disability and become a thriving reader.
Ms. Polacco wants struggling young readers to know that they are unique, bright, and amazing. In fact, she believes that they are much brighter, not dimmer, than others. “They simply can’t do the dance the way that everybody else does. Help them understand that what they are experiencing has nothing to do with intelligence. It is literally a kind of malfunctioning of the eyes being able to trace and identify words and images. The way they approach reading is quite different from what other people do.”