Written and Illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Philomel Books, 1998
The grandpa held the jar of honey so that all the family could see, then dipped a ladle into it and drizzled honey on the cover of a small book.
The plot in a nutshell: Trisha loves books but finds reading inexplicably difficult, and when her inability to read makes her a target for a bully, it takes a special teacher to help her find her way.
I figured this would be an appropriate book to review as all the students are heading back to school this week. This autobiographical book tells author/illustrator Patricia Polacco’s story of overcoming dyslexia and discovering her artistic talent. The story begins with some back story about her beloved grandparents and the farm in Michigan where they lived. Her family shared a love of books, but when Trisha started school, the letters and numbers never looked right to her and she made it, shockingly, to fifth grade before getting help. She describes her teacher, Mr. Falker, as a ‘character’ who didn’t seem to notice which kids were the most popular or cutest or tallest.
The central focus of the story is the bullying and teasing she endured during those years, when kids in her classes openly mocked her for being ‘stupid’ and ‘ugly,’ and, as we all know, when you hear those things every day, you begin to believe them. Life in school was so hard for her that she would find a place to hide during recess every day, just to escape the bullies. Mr. Falker sees the bullying and puts a stop to it, then discovers Trisha’s inability to read. He meets this with support and encouragement. He offers to help and her life is changed forever.
This book makes me very thankful that we have more knowledge and understanding of dyslexia and stronger support systems for early diagnosis and intervention. Ms. Polacco does a wonderful job of conveying how lonely and hurtful it was for her during those years when she was struggling with a disability that no one understood or was even aware of back in the 50’s. Her artwork in this book is full of emotion and you can tell this is a very personal story. It would be a good book to share with children, as it can help lead to a better understanding of the students in their school who may be a little different. It also fosters respect and admiration for teachers (in a time when teachers don’t get enough of that) and underscores the importance of family. It would be a lovely world indeed if everyone had a Mr. Falker of their own.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all it takes is one hero to change the world for someone.