Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spotlight on... Patricia Polacco

A small fraction of Polacco's books
Patricia Polacco has the greatest range of any picture book author I can think of.  From alphabet books (G is for Goat), to simple stories for toddlers (Oh, Look!, Mommies Say Shhh), to cumulative tales (In Enzo's Splendid Garden), to the very funny and absurd (Ginger and Petunia), to flights of the imagination (Emma Kate), autobiographical stories about family relationships and the importance of family history (the companion books The Keeping Quilt and The Blessing Cup, My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Rotten Richie and the Ultimate Dare, among many others), to odes to the importance of teachers in general and thank yous to specific teachers who taught her and helped her overcome learning disabilities and find where her true talents lay (Thank You, Mr. Falker and The Art of Miss Chew), to books about history, particularly the Civil War (Pink and Say, Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln), to books about the true meaning of Christmas (An Orange for Frankie, Gifts of the Heart), cancer (The Lemonade Club) and civil rights, prejudice and discrimination (In Our Mothers' House), she's done it all.  Here are a few of our favorites.

Ginger and Petunia.  Petunia the pig impersonates her owner, the glamorous Ginger, while Ginger is away.  Hysterical, with pitch-perfect illustrations. 

Someone for Mr. Sussman.  The narrator's bubbeh (grandmother) is a matchmaker who is secretly in love with her most difficult client.  She tries to change herself to fit his every whim  (he wants someone who bakes, no, someone who exercises, no, someone who loves blue, no, someone who dances), only to learn in the end, of course, that it is best to be herself.  Yet the book is so funny that the lesson doesn't seem trite.  As Bubbeh herself says, "No pot is so crooked that there isn't a lid to fit it!"

The Keeping Quilt and The Blessing CupThe Keeping Quilt is perhaps Polacco's best-known work and is a modern classic for a reason.  The just-published 25th anniversary edition adds to the history of the quilt.  These books tell the history of a family - and the times it lived through - by tracing the history of an object.  Again, not a new topic, but Polacco treats it like no one else.  With the title object in color and the rest of the illustrations in black-and-white, Polacco shows how these objects have special meaning for her family.

Rotten Richie and the Ultimate Dare.  Patricia and her brother fight over whose avocation is more physically challenging - hockey or ballet.  Their wise mother makes each of them try the other's in order to settle the dispute. As with many of her autobiographical picture books, the endpapers are decorated with real photos of Polacco and her family, which I just love. 

Emma Kate.  This book's surprise ending following a seemingly typical story about an imaginary friend is just delightful. 

What are your favorite Patricia Polacco books?

Can you think of any other picture book author with a range even close to hers?

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