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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Learning from a Favorite Author: Patricia Polacco

This week, we kicked off our writing workshop with a few lessons from one of our favorite authors, Patricia Polacco.  We began by reading an informational book she wrote, titled Firetalking.

In this book, Polacco tells us about her life, showing us how she gets ideas and inspiration from the people, pets, places, experiences, and stories from her real world to create books for us to enjoy.  Her beloved pet cat, Tush, inspired the story Mrs. Katz and Tush.  Her mother's childhood memory of a meteor crashing into her front yard inspired the story Meteor.  The more we read her books, the more we learn about her.  Summers with her father and his love of horses inspired Mrs. Mack.  Her older brother Richie really is red-headed, as in My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother.  As writers, we can draw a link between her sources of inspirations and our own.  

If Patricia Polacco wrote about her cat Tush....then I could write about my pet, ____.

If Patricia Polacco wrote about her brother Richie....then I could write about my brother/sister.

If Patricia Polacco wrote about her mother's memory of a meteor...then I could write about my ____'s story of the time when they ____.

If Patricia Polacco wrote about her love of making pysanky eggs...then I could write about my hobby, ____.

But that's not all Polacco taught us.  In Applemando's Dreams, Applemando "dreams up" amazing ideas, to his friends' delight, until the elders of the village tell him these dreams are bad.  Once these negative voices are in his head, Applemando can no longer dream until his friends help him feel safe enough to try again.  Similarly, in Junkyard Wonders, the students of room 206 feel like they're not as good as the other students in the school.  In fact, they think they are junk!  
Even the best of writers have struggled with feelings of self-doubt at times.  Some writers might hear this voice of self-doubt so loudly that they, like Applemando, stop dreaming up stories and ideas to write about.  But good writers know that their ideas are worth writing.  We will never write something really good if we never START WRITING.  
In order to squash those negative voices in our minds, we've learned a few strategies.  First and foremost, we've given ourselves permission to write ANYTHING.  Any idea is good enough.  Just like Polacco said of her own art and stories in Firetalking, we might not get it right the first time.  We might need to try that story again and again.  But that's OK!  That's what good writers do!

Another strategy to overcoming those feelings of self-doubt is to use "thinking prompts" as we write.  For instance, perhaps when we sit down to write, the only idea in our head at the time is something we think doesn't sound "good enough".  We can begin our writing with the words, "One idea is..." and continue with the "not good enough" idea we're thinking.  Then, just let our minds keep rolling with it as we write.  We can follow this "not good enough" idea until we feel better ideas brewing.

One idea is pink Converse.  Pink Converse standing firmly in a row.  Pink Converse, navy Converse, fancy, new high tops and shiny, black ballet flats, all standing at attention, watching as they raise the flag.  Today was our first flag raising.  Our school gathered in the bus loop to hear Mrs. Phillips speak.  Flag raisings make our school special.  They're part of what it means to be Chets Creek.  I remember when I first came to Chets Creek..................

 Other thinking prompts we might try are:

  • The words I'm hearing are....
  • What I'm thinking right now....
  • I could try to write about....

Beginning our writing with these phrases has a way of quietening those nasty voices whispering in our ear, "No, no, no.  You can't write about that.  That's not good enough."

We have more to learn from this amazing author, Patricia Polacco. Writers, as you continue in your writing life, be sure to remember these important lessons.  Every idea we have is good enough to try writing at least once.  In room 211, and everywhere else in our writing lives, we have permission to write ANYTHING!


  1. Love the Patricia Polacco story, especially the last comment! Love that Andrew's writing daily, too.


  2. Lexie cannot wait to put pencil to paper everyday! Chase cannot wait to tell a story...working on getting it down on paper! Thanks for inspiring instead of just assigning :)

  3. Patricia Polacco is one of absolute favorite children's authors! I loved using her books when I was teaching. Kids can really relate to her stories. Thanks for such an in-depth look at what goes on in your classroom!


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