Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dyslexic Writer Pens More Than 100 Children’s Books

As a young child, author Patricia Polacco loved to draw, but she had great trouble reading, writing, spelling and even doing calculations. Years later, she learned the names for her learning disabilities, which include dyslexia and dysgraphia among other related issues.

“Back then, we did not know what was wrong. It was obvious that it was serious. As a young person, it was daunting. I did get further and further behind, but I do know that my family did not make me feel different,” she said during an afternoon gathering recently in the Frostwood Elementary School library.

On Sept. 9, Polacco visited with students there in two separate sessions. Later that day, she talked about growing up on a Michigan farm and her learning disabilities to a small student group as well as KHOU-TV 11 broadcaster and reporter Shern-min Chow. (View KHOU’s story broadcast between 6-7 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23, during morning news.)

At age 71, Polacco has written 115 children’s books, all but three of which are still in print. Just as incredible, the prolific author might not have become a writer were it not for a teacher who understood that she couldn’t read easily and helped her.

She endured teasing and bullying about her learning disabilities until she learned to make visual and mental adaptations. Her book, Thank You, Mr. Falker, retells this pivotal life moment with a teacher and how it changed her life and career.

Many of her books focus on childhood years she spent on her grandmother’s farm in Union City, Mich. A great born storyteller, Polacco’s parents are of Russian and Ukrainian descent on her father’s side and Irish on her mother’s side.

She was just 3 years old when her parents divorced, which resulted in years on the family farm with her grandparents for both Polacco and her brother.

She spoke to Frostwood Elementary students in two separate school sessions, part of a Houston schools tour sponsored her publisher, Simon & Schuster, and several area elementary campuses.

“This amazing author had all of the students and teachers mesmerized with stories about her own family, growing up with dyslexia, and making right choices when it concerns others,” reports Frostwood’s Lisa Branon, a teacher-librarian.

Polacco brought part of a small meteor that landed years ago in her mother’s front yard in Michigan to the school sessions. She allowed students to touch and make a wish on the space debris, which was the subject of her first book, Meteor!

“The [meteor] experience will be a lasting one for Frostwood teachers and students after listening to this author who writes from the heart,” Branon says.

Polacco wrote and illustrated her first book in 1987. By then, she was 41 years old.

During a library session with students, Polacco displayed a recent copy of the quilt her grandmother, or babushka in Russian, created from scraps of old clothing. She said that the quilt was one of her favorite memories.

This family memento is at the center her early book, The Keeping Quilt, which was published a quarter century ago.

Today, Polacco considers her 115 books to be both a personal legacy and testament to overcoming childhood learning disabilities.

In addition to earning her masters of fine arts, or MFA, and doctorate, or Ph.D., in art history from Ohio State University, Polacco is the mother of two adult children.


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