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Because so many of Patricia Polacco's childhood experiences have served as the inspiration for her children's picture books, it's particularly interesting to look at her life and her books together.
Dates: July 11, 1944 -
Also Known As: Patricia Barber Polacco
Interesting Facts About Patricia Polacco's Life and Work
1. Patricia Polacco did not begin writing children's books until she was 41 and by late 2013, had been writing children's books for 28 years. Her first book, which based on childhood experience, was Meteor!
2. Patricia Polacco's parents divorced when she was three years old. Since her parents moved back to their parents' homes, and she went back and forth between those homes, her grandparents became a big influence on her life and later, in her writing. With a Russian and Ukrainian heritage on her mother's side and Irish on her father's, she was surrounded by storytellers and loved hearing family stories.
3. Some of Polacco's favorite books as a child included Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit, The Tall Mother Goose by Fedor Rojankovsky, Grimm's Fairy Tales and Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. Among the contemporary authors and illustrators, she admires are Jerry Pinkney, Gloria Jean Pinkney, Tomie dePaola, Alan Say, Virginia Hamilton, Jan Brett, and Lois Lowry.
4. A learning disability kept Polacco from learning to read until she was 14. Years later, she celebrated the assistance she received from a caring teacher her picture book Thank You, Mr. Falker. The same kids who teased her about her poor reading skills praised Polacco's artwork. Art was something she could do easily and in a 2013 presentation in Wichita, Kansas, Polacco said, “For me, art is like breathing.”
5. Despite this rough start in school, Polacco went on to earn a Ph.D. in Art History, with an emphasis on iconography. In Oakland, she attended the California College of Arts and Crafts and Laney Community College. Polacco then went to Australia where she attended Monash University in a suburb of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
6. Patricia Polacco's picture books, most of which are based on family and childhood experiences, emphasize diversity, a reflection of both her own multicultural family and what eight-year-old Patricia and her brother, Richard, found when they moved with their mother to Oakland, California where they spent the school year, spending summers with their father in rural Michigan.
In reference to growing up in the Rockridge District of Oakland, Polacco said she loved the fact “… that all of my neighbors came in as many colors, ideas, and religions as there are people on the planet. How lucky I was to know so many people that were so different and yet so much alike.”
7. After a brief first marriage that ended in divorce, Patricia Polacco married chef and cooking instructor Enzo Polacco. Their two children, now adults, are Traci Denise and Steven John. She wrote about Enzo in her children's book In Enzo's Splendid Gardens.
8. The many awards that Patricia Polacco has received for her children's picture books include the: 1988 Sydney Taylor Book Award for The Keeping Quilt, 1989 International Reading Association Award for Rechenka's Eggs, 1992 Golden Kite Award for Illustration from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and a 1993 Jane Adams Peace Association and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Honor Award for Mrs. Katz and Tush.
9. For those interested in writing books, Polacco stresses the importance of taking the time to use (and listen to) your imagination and not get distracted by outside interruptions, like television. In fact, she attributes her vivid imagination to all the storytelling in her family and the absence of a TV.
10. Patricia Polacco never forgot the early years she spent on her grandparents' farm in Union City, Michigan, and the stories her Babushka (grandmother) told. After almost 37 years in Oakland, she moved back to Union City where she now has a home, a studio and many plans for writing workshops and storytelling events.
More About Polacco's Work
If your 7- to 12-year-olds are eager to learn more about Patricia Polacco and her books, a wonderful introduction to her work is Firetalking, her brief autobiography for children, which features lots of color photographs and information about her family, her life, and her books.
- 9/10/13 presentation by Patricia Polacco at Watermark Books, Wichita Kansas, “Meet Patricia Polacco.” Houghton Mifflin Reading.
- Polacco, Patricia. “Author Biography of Patricia Polacco.” Scholastic.
- “Transcript from an Interview with Patricia Polacco.” Reading Rockets, 12 Aug. 2013.