Sample Author Study: Patricia Polacco

Our Author Study Toolkit provides the step-by-step for studying authors in the classroom. But what would a real author study unit look like when you fill in the details? We've developed a sample author study using the popular author and illustrator, Patricia Polacco, as the model. Her much-loved books include Pink and Say, Thank You, Mr. Falker, and Thunder Cake. Polacco's themes are timeless and provide rich opportunities for in-depth study.

Why choose Patricia Polacco?

Polacco has written lots of great stories drawn from her own family. Her stories are realistic, filled with humor and drama, and are accessible — even to reluctant readers — because they are in a picture book form.

What age is most appropriate for a study of Polacco?

Patricia Polacco’s picture books are most appropriate for older elementary studies (grades 3–5), although older children and adults can appreciate her work, too. This is particularly true for several of her books, such as Pink and Say and The Butterfly, which include difficult scenes related to war.

(Note: A handful of Polacco’s books, such as G Is For Goat are clearly meant for preschoolers.)

Polacco's work uses the picture book format. Some older elementary kids view picture book as “baby” books, and teachers might have to sell these books a bit. So it’s important to start with a high-interest book.

This author study begins with Polacco’s tale of sibling rivalry with her brother, My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother as a way to pique students’ interest and show that these books are for older readers like them.

Patricia Polacco

How to do the author study

Classroom read alouds and student reflection

Because she uses the picture book format, Patricia Polacco is an excellent choice for a classroom author study. The teacher can choose 4-5 “focus” books to read aloud and discuss with the class.

Meanwhile, students can read other Polacco books on their own during silent reading time each day. As they read on their own, students can jot down notes about what they are reading in notebooks designated for the author study.

During the class read-aloud time, the teacher can ask students to think about various questions and issues raised by the books being read. Students can then be assigned to explore these questions and issues further through assignments they do on their own.

As Polacco’s books are being read, in the classroom and by individual students, the teacher should encourage students to think about what they are learning about the author herself. The teacher can keep a chart with Patricia Polacco “clues” on it. The chart can be expanded as students discover more clues, both in the read-aloud time and in their individual reading.

Gathering information about the author

Once the class has read the focus books aloud, the teacher can begin showing students how to find information about Polacco. Students can match the information from their research with the “clues” they found to piece together a biography of the author.

Art exploration

If students have an in-school art curriculum, the art teacher can be encouraged to talk about how Polacco works as an illustrator. Students then can try their hand at using the same materials Polacco uses to create a favorite scene from one of her books.

If there isn’t a separate art class (or the art teacher is not able to collaborate on the author study), you can still highlight Polacco’s artwork. It can also be a great time to talk about picture books and the balance between text and images.

Final projects

Ask your students to choose a fun way to show what they have learned about Polacco. Students can dress as a favorite character and give a brief talk to the class about why the character is a favorite. Or, students can write a letter to a favorite character in one of the books, creating their own illustrations. Another option is to have students write and illustrate a story about something that happened in their own family — just as Polacco does in so many of her books.

Our interview with Patricia Polacco

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