Patricia Polacco has long been one of my favorite children’s authors. I’ve led author studies of her works with my former students in both reading and writing workshop. I have used books like Mrs. Katz and Tush and The Butterfly in my consulting work. She an author whose books take up a good deal of space in one of my bookcases. Knowing that she’s a very busy woman, I was hesitant to approach her publicist about doing a Q&A with her. (What if she didn’t have the time? What if she didn’t want to do it for another reason? Either way, I knew a “no” wouldn’t feel good.) Fortunately, her answer was yes!
Polacco’s newest book, The Art of Miss Chew, is yet another masterpiece. Like many of her books, this story comes from her own life so it’s idea for use in a (personal) narrative unit of study. You can read more about the book and view interior spreads by clicking here. Many of my questions revolve around The Art of Miss Chew, but some are about Polacco’s revision process and her thoughts about school budget cuts as they relate to the arts.
SAS: You’ve written so many incredible stories that have helped readers get to know you and your family. The Art of Miss Chew is no different. We witness your struggles in the classroom and your triumphs as an artist. How do you think sharing books like this one can help kids who might not be brave enough to write about their own struggles?
PP: The reason I share my struggles is that so many children are struggling today. I don’t want them to feel alone because my most searing memory is that I felt completely and absolutely alone. So if they know, and of course these days many people have come out and admitted their struggles, and I believe this helps children more than anything.
SAS: The dialogue in The Art of Miss Chew feels as though it is a transcript of the exact words the characters said. However, I know these events happened in the 1960s. Therefore, would you share how you were able to recreate the dialogue so it felt so exact to the reader?
PP: I have a very vivid memory and certainly where a person in authority has come to my defense. That memory is burned into my mind as long as I live.
SAS: In your author’s note that Miss Chew never called you by your given name; she always called you Theresa. If a teacher shares this interview with his/her class, then I think kids would love to know why do you think she never called you Patricia or Trisha? Also, how come you never corrected her?
PP: The first day of being in her class, I wanted a more glamourous name than Patricia. So I fibbed and told her my name was Theresa. Even when I tried to correct the situation, I think Miss Chew always believed that my real name was Theresa.
SAS: What advice can you give to children who face challenges in the classroom but excel in other areas like art, music, or sports?
PP: I believe in multiple intelligences. I don’t think for one second there is only one road to success. I believe each and every one of us has amazing gifts. The human dilemma is we open them at different times. So, some children feel left out or dumb because they can’t do what everyone else does. When they find their particular talent, and they all have it, that is where they will excel.
SAS: Tragically, art budgets around the country have been or are being slashed. How do you suggest a classroom teacher infuse art into their already jam-packed curriculum so their students don’t miss out on expressing themselves artistically?
PP: Yes, art budgets all over the country are being slashed. And in almost every case it is because the monies that should belong to them are being used to publish testing for the No Child Left Behind Mandate. DON’T GET ME STARTED at how appalled I am that in most public schools in our country we are losing art, music, drama, and in some cases, even physical education, so that these tests can be purchased by the districts. You ask how can teachers remedy this in their classrooms? I would say, since they are not art teachers, per se, to show videos or slideshows or smart board presentations of beautiful art so that children can see this mysterious wonder that mankind in able to perform. When the art in them is accessed.
SAS: Your books are mentors for so many students. Many educators I have worked (myself included) aspire to write like you. Help us get a glimpse into your life as a writer. For instance, would you share your revision process with us?
PP: Tell your students any author who claims they get their manuscripts perfectly right the first time they write it is lying through their teeth. With the help of my generous editors who to me are my instructors and teachers, we collaborate on each and every word that is written. Patty Lee Gauche, who is my primary editor, and herself an author of over 50 books, is a master at leading me through the maze of ideas and thoughts while still maintaining my voice. The voice is the hardest thing to preserve when work is being corrected. She is a master at doing this. I have her to thank after a 27 year relationship for any success I know enjoy as an author.
SAS: What’s the next book we can look forward to reading from you? When will it be released?
PP: The next book that is coming out for Penguin in the fall is “Bully”. It’s about cyber bullying among 6th grade girls. Also this fall, Simon & Schuster will be releasing “The Blessing Cup”, which is a prequel to “The Keeping Quilt” about the family fleeing the Pograms in Russia. We are also, at the same time, releasing an anniversary edition of “The Keeping Quilt” that will add pages, bringing the story up to this time. In the spring, Scholastic is bringing out “Clara and Davey” about Clara Barton, the first 13 years of her life. I’m working on a Christmas story and also original stories that are going to appear on Amazon. So a lot to look forward to!
Giveaway Information: This giveaway is for a copy of The Art of Miss Chew for one of our readers. Many for thanks the Penguin Group for sponsoring this giveaway. To enter for a chance to win a copy of The Art of Miss Chew each reader may leave one comment about this post in the comments section of this post. Feel free to share your thoughts about this interview, how you might use this book in your reading or writing workshop, or you thoughts on what school districts can do to protect funding for the arts. All comments left on or before Thursday, June 14th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Friday, June 15th. I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post by June 17th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Penguin send the book out to you. Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.
Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment. It was wonderful to see so much enthusiasm about Patricia Polacco’s new book (and about her inspiring words)!
Congratulations to kaparks whose comment number was picked using the random number generator.
Kaparks will receive a copy of The Art of Miss Chew. She wrote:
As a college student preparing to become an elementary teacher, I’ve been trying to read/discover more great children’s books that I would love to share with my future students. Thanks for this post, these seem like great books I’ll need to check out!
I really loved the quote, “The reason I share my struggles is that so many children are struggling today. I don’t want them to feel alone because my most searing memory is that I felt completely and absolutely alone.” That’s beautiful, and so true for many people – the worst memories stemming from feeling alone. It’s great to see an author doing what they do to try and help that.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).