Building Readers and Writers with Patricia Polacco

Pause for a moment and think about your favorite authors from childhood. Maybe it was Dr. Seuss or Gary Paulsen, or perhaps you loved Clifford and Curious George. As a reading specialist, I quickly developed a love of Patricia Polacco's work. The connection she forms to struggling readers is just huge. More important than connecting to them is the fact that with hard work and perseverance, she was able to overcome many of her challenges. This is huge for the type of students I've worked with. By the time students reach fourth and fifth grade, they often perceive themselves as failures and doubt things will ever get better. No matter how often we tell them that we believe in them and that they can do it, they've  had too many setbacks to believe us. Sound familiar?  If so, I would encourage you to begin working in her books.


Thank You, Mr. Falker is a must read with every upper elementary class. Thank You, Mr. Falker shares the struggles children with dyslexia experience. Students will learn from this book what it's like to be learning disabled and what it's like to be bullied. Patricia Polacco tells the story of how she learned to read and just how difficult it was for her growing up. The activities in this unit are organized in before, during, and after fashion and include the following in both DIGITAL and PDF formatsThe first book to start with must be Thank You Mr. Falker.  This book sets the stage for the rest of her work. In it, Patricia shares how she learned that she had dyslexia. She did not learn to read until she was twelve years old I believe (so most children realize that their struggles may not be so bad).  I can not read that book without tearing up, and I am sure you are likely the same. With this set, the skills I focused on were author's craft and visualizing. The writing prompt is focused on bucket filling.


This Keeping Quilt book companion includes DIGITAL and PDF options. This is a beautiful story of Patricia's ancestry. The bundle includes before, during, and after activities to accompany the book, a Patricia Polacco research lapbook, and writing extensions.   Skills addressed through this unit includes a schema building,vocabulary, story impressions, cause and effect relationships, question task cards and response form for group discussion, an 11-page lapbook, a class book on family traditions and a researching Ellis Island form. (in Full Color Digital and Black/White PDF)Book two for me would be The Keeping Quilt. The reason I'd use this one second is that it gives more information about her family's immigration to the United States and her connections to Russia. When I use Patricia Polacco's books with my students, I typically study her life as well. Patricia's family traditions are part of her other books, and the students need a little background on the Ukraine.


Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco is a great book for the middle grades for use any time of year. This Chicken Sunday unit includes before/during/after activities and is Common Core aligned. It includes a full color digital option using Google Slides TM and black and white PDF printables. The skills includes are listed with the resource description.
If you read Chicken Sunday, you'll certainly see Patricia's Russian/Ukrainian influence in this story. You might explore the topic of immigration with paired nonfiction books about Ellis Island. In this book, there are references to  several artifacts including pysanky eggs, and of course, family traditions.


Christmas Tapestry is a great choice for the weeks before winter break. This 43 page Christmas Tapestry literacy unit includes many options for using Christmas Tapestry as a mentor text, in guided reading groups, or digitally for work stations.Skills addressed with the book include: prereading schema building, vocabulary, making comparisons, sequencing, summarizing, visualizing, questioning strategies (QAR/4 H),  question cards (for either centers or small group instruction) and post reading writing activities that can be used in conjunction with this book or other winter books. 43 pages total (20 PDF and 23 Google Slides TM)Depending on the time of year, you may opt for Christmas Tapestry instead. In this book, two Holocaust survivors are reunited at a local rundown church that's been given new life when Pastor Jonathan comes to town. It is based on a true story, and it too weaves in family traditions from Patricia's childhood.


My Rotten Redhead Older Brother is one of Patricia Polacco's most popular books. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother is one every child with a sibling understands. This newly revised unit includes before/during/after activities that work well for guided reading, as mentor text lessons, for partners, and even for some centers with printable and digital options.Once you've given your students a bit of background on her life, then the books will all fit together. Most will have bits of information tied to her life. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother is one of my favorites because kids truly relate to it. Sibling rivalry and making bets are part of every kid's childhood, but I love that character change and how Richie and Patricia start off fighting, but unite as brother and sister in the end.


Although I haven't created a unit for Some Birthday, it is a favorite of mine. In this book, Patricia's bummed out that no one seems to remember her birthday, and just when she thinks it's all over, the family surprises her in a very fun and unique way.


When Lightning Comes in a Jar is a great book about Patricia's family reunion. It's written on a high fourth grade level, and is the perfect mentor text for character analysis, author's craft, and writer's voice. This unit includes materials to use with a guided reading group in a before/during/after format in PDF and now in Digital using Google Slides TM. The skills included are listed in the resource description.
When Lightning Comes in a Jar is a great one for family traditions. It's about Patricia's family reunion. You meet many family members in this one, and it's a great one for the end of the year or summer school. Of course this family reunion would not be complete without catching fireflies.


Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco is a sweet story of overcoming fears. Thunder Cake ties in well with weather studies or storms. It is perfect for guided reading groups or as a mentor text with it's rich vocabulary and description. This *Newly Revised and Exanded* unit includes materials for before/during/after reading in DIGITAL using GOOGLE SLIDES TM and PDF Printables. The skills included are listed in the resrouce description.Patricia's grandmother was a very important part of her life. She encouraged Patricia at times when she really needed it, and she helped Patricia overcome several challenges. In Thunder Cake, Patricia is terrified of storms. Her grandmother helps her get through this fear by making thunder cake with her.


The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco is a sweet story (literally). The Bee Tree is about how Mary Ellen learns the sweetness of reading and books. It is written on a fourth grade level and the unit would work well for grades 3-5. This unit  now comes in both DIGITAL using Google Slides TM and PDF options. Skills include point of view, characterization, questioning, summarizing, theme, cause/effect and writing extension.Another challenge for Patricia was learning to read of course. Like Thank You Mr. Falker, The Bee Tree includes Patricia's grandparents and their role in her life. Most schools have Grandparent's Day, so you might use these around that time. The Bee Tree is an anology about the sweetness of reading.


Bully is the perfect book for counselors, tech specialists, and classroom teachers. Bully deals with bullying/cyber bullying, cliques, internet safety, and welcoming new students to school. This bundle is designed in a before, during, and after format. The reading activities included address the following skills in both Digital for Google Apps and PDF formats:Bully is one I'd include with Patricia's school experiences. I partnered with our guidance counselor and IT specialist to use this unit. Our guidance counselor extended the themes of bullying in group guidance lessons, and our IT specialist addressed internet safety and misuse. Of course, I worked with my kids on comprehension and writing activities with these themes as well. In my opinion, this unit was the most beneficial to my students.


The Junkyard Wonders is one of my favorites. The Junkyard Wonders is perfect any time of year for addressing themes of bullying, friendship, and self-esteem. This unit was developed as a reading and writing unit co-taught with our guidance counselor. It includes both Digital for Google Slides TM and PDF options.Junkyard Wonders is the sequel to Thank You Mr. Falker. If you teach struggling readers or special education, this book is a must. I love how the teacher builds her students up and helps them to see that they each have unique gifts.


Mr. Lincoln's Way is a great book about finding success in school and the importance of the grownups in the school building. This unit includes before, during, after activities including a lapbook project in both digital and pdf formats. It addresses vocabulary, comparing characters, story themes and lessons, writing extension and more.In addition to Junkyard WondersThe Art of Mrs. Chew and Mr. Wayne's Masterpiece feature Patricia's experiences at school, but there's one more that I really like too. It's Mr. Lincoln's Way. Each hits at different points in Patricia's life, and as I'm writing this up, I can not recall the order. You might preview them or check on Patricia Polacco's website [here] to learn more about each book as well as about her biographical information.  Mr. Lincoln's Way features a very special administrator who takes a little boy under his wings and helps him find success at school. I just see so many kids in his face. Sometimes it takes something special to help children find success.


This book companion for the book, For the Love of Autumn includes lessons focused on questioning using QAR, summarizing, writing extension, and more in a before, during, after format.
Patricia's books are not all tied to her life, but you'll see her writing style is consistent with unrelated titles too. I love the sweetness of For the Love of Autumn, and this book works well for most any child who loves animals. Teachers love it because it tells about the life of a teacher too. It's a great choice for problem solving.


Just Plain Fancy explores the Amish way of life. In this unit, students experience alphaboxes about Amish Life, vocabulary studies, sequencing events,  context clues, cause and effect, sketch to stretch (visualizing) and fancy stories.Another title I have enjoyed using with my students is Just Plain Fancy since most are unfamiliar with the Amish way of life. It provides an opportunity for students to learn cultural difference and appreciating each other. 

I've shared a brief bit of information on my favorites, but what are yours?  Maybe your list would be the same, or maybe you're favorite list would include a few others. I know one day I will add Pink and Say and Rechenka's Eggs to my list. I may also create something for Betty Doll.  Oh, I just love her writing, and I hope you do too. 

If you'd like to check out this author study in more detail, just click on the image below. 
This Patricia Polacco Author Study includes materials for *13* titles and an author research lapbook for a total of 560+ pages of materials. Patricia Polacco is a favorite for teachers and students. Her books are filled with tier 2 vocabulary and so many relevant social themes. Using Polacco’s books in guided reading or as a mentor text for writing helps your students far beyond reading and writing. Her books help children for life! The bundle now includes a Digital using Google Slides TM version and a PDF printable version for expanded options.
For more ideas you can use or explore, check out the Patricia Polacco pinterest board I've started below. 
Follow Comprehension's board Patricia Polacco Ideas on Pinterest.

Now, go and have a great weekend. It is cooling down here in Virginia, and I hear rumors we'll be in the teens next week. What???  I am just not ready for that!

Until next time, happy reading!

Pin for Later:
Patricia Polacco is one author who provides us with quality literature with so many life lessons. Check out this post for author study ideas.


  1. I love Patricia Polacco..especially her book Thank you Mr. Faulker. This is a yearly read aloud in my class. I would love to win this product! What's a great resource!

  2. I love The Keeping Quilt book. Love your author study bundles and would love to win this product, excellent resource.

  3. I love your pinterest board....I am always looking for ideas to keep my library students active and engaged.

    1. Thanks Connie! I plan to do them for other authors too. It's a great way to organize ideas.

  4. I love so many but some of my favs are Thank you, Mr. Falker, Mr. Lincoln's Way, and My Rotten Red Headed Older Brother. Thank you for the opportunity to win! :)

  5. Your pinterest board is just full of amazing things! Thanks for all the ideas for extending my 2nd graders comprehension.

    1. You are welcome. I also started one for Jan Brett and Cynthia Rylant too, so you might look for those too.

  6. I like Thank you, Mr. Falker, Thunder Cake, and The Keeping Quilt to name a few. :) Thanks for the opportunity!!


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