Monday, July 6, 2015

Thank You, Mr. Falker 
By Patricia Polacco

This is the ultimate memoir mentor text!  Patricia Polacco, well known for her engaging storytelling in her picture books, is at her best as she shares with readers her childhood learning struggles in this poignant, touching story!

According to Fountas and Pinnell’s definition of a memoir, a memoir is told in the first person. Thank You, Mr. Falker isn’t, making it written more as a narrative, except the last page, (which is an epilogue)—and that  is written in first person. Thank YouMr. Falker could be used as a mentor text for Personal Narrative or Memoir. For solid understanding of the significance of the story, it is definitely worth talking to your class about Patricia Polacco, who is dyslexic, dysnumeric and dysgraphic, before reading the story. ( See her website and interview references at the end of this review.)

Awards: Parent’s Choice Honor

Book Talk
The storyteller opens the story by having readers take a look into a family tradition that emphasizes the importance of reading and learning.  A grandfather pours a bit of honey on a book and has a five year old girl taste it and proclaims it as “sweet!”  The grandfather tells her, 
“So is knowledge (sweet) but knowledge is like the bee that made the sweet honey, you have to chase it through the pages of a book.!”  The little girl was very excited as she was starting school soon and would soon learn to read.

But not so.

The young girl, Trisha, soon starts kindergarten and is soon known as the class artist!  But working with letters, sounds, words and numbers proves to be very, very difficult for Trisha.

By first grade, Trisha knows that she is different.  The other kids are learning to read and moving through the readers, but Trisha is not.  The words on the page looked scrambled to her and made no sense.  Trisha begins to dislike school.

Trisha’s refuge and saving grace was drawing.  The harder the words became, the more she drew beautiful pictures.  This still did not make up for the fact that she felt terrible about not learning how to read, especially after her Grandfather’s ‘knowledge ritual’.  

Moving into 2nd and 3rd grade, the other students start to notice that Trisha cannot read,write or understand math—and the  horrible teasing and bullying by some of the students in her class begins.  This makes school unbearable for Trisha—but her mother decides the small family will move to California—-so they do.  Trisha is hoping for a new beginning.

But it doesn’t happen.  Her classmates are savvy and figure out right away about her academic struggles…and the teasing and bullying begins again and plagues Trisha.

Until fifth grade—-and the new teacher, Mr.Falker, comes into her life.  Mr. Falker sees the potential in all his students and quickly zeros in on Trisha’s strengths and weaknesses. He makes a point to  make  a huge deal in front of the other class members about her talent as an artist as often as he can. He discovers that one particular student is being very cruel to Trisha and Mr. Falker quickly puts an end to the bullying.  He also, seeks extra help for Trisha and volunteers to work with her after school.

Through the patience, nurturing and hard work of Mr. Falker (and Trisha), she makes a breakthrough and learns how to read!!  

At the end of the story, Trisha grabs some honey and locates the very book her Grandfather used to teach her about the sweetness of reading and knowledge.  

In the epilogue—Patricia Polacco identifies herself to her readers as the Trisha in the story.  But she adds some addition information that makes the story so tender and meaningful at this point.  She tells readers that she saw Mr. Falker years later when she was a grown up and she talked to him. She told him what his efforts meant to her.  He asked her what she was doing now that she was a grown-up. 

My favorite line: “He hugged me and asked me what I did for a living. “Why, Mr. Falker, “ I answered. “ I make books for children….Thank you, Mr. Falker. Thank you.”

I have to admit to tearing up absolutely every time I try to get through this page.  As an educator, that is really the ultimate thanks— a HUGE wow!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Memoir
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Inferring, Analyzing
Writing Workshop Genres and Strategies: Memoir, Personal Narrative, Strong Endings, Strong Female
Curricular Themes: We Need Diverse Books (about Learning Differences), Acceptance, Bullying

Patricia Polacco’s website:

An interview with Patricia Polacco:

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