Fifth-grader Joe Sohasky touches a piece of a meteor and makes a wish as he meets children's author/illustrator Patricia Polacco, who was visiting Maplewood Elementary School in Sylvania Tuesday.
Prolific children's author and illustrator Patricia Polacco may be hard to book for an appearance, but she's not hard to find. That's what happens when you live in a town of less than 2,000 people and provide driving instructions on your Web site.
"When you do something that puts you in the public eye, you shouldn't be doing it if you don't want people to know about you," says Polacco. "During the summer, lots and lots of people come here to my farm,"
Among them this summer was a group of educators from Sylvania's Central Elementary School who made the trek to Union City, Mich., about 90 miles northwest of Toledo, to set up a field trip for teachers and staff. A chance encounter with the author led to an agreement that Polacco, who normally has a two-year waiting list, would visit area schools this week thanks to an opening in her schedule.
The renowned creator of such works as The Keeping Quilt started off the week here at Maplewood Elementary School in Sylvania yesterday and will continue through Sept. 15. She will meet with elementary students at four more schools in the Sylvania area - Central, Highland, Stranahan, and St. Joseph - as well as in Ottawa Hills.
Two appearances will be open to grown-ups: an adult-only session at Central Elementary, 7460 West Central Ave., at 4 p.m. today (call 419-824-8610, extension 2100 to see if seats remain available) and a public book signing at the Toledo-Lucas County
Public Library's Sanger Branch at 3030 West Central Ave. on Saturday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
While Polacco's appearances cost $2,500 per day plus expenses - for which each school will be responsible - there will be no cost to the library, according to a library official.
Polacco's nostalgic books are filled with real people, and many have to do with overcoming difficulties, says Nancy Eames, library youth services coordinator. Thank You, Mr. Falker, for example, is about the teacher who helped get her assistance for the dyslexia that had made her feel stupid growing up.
Polacco, 65, hopes people come away understanding the importance of storytelling.
"I think a lot of families think their story isn't that important to their children. Oh, yes it is," she says. "I hope they walk out of the room knowing that they're authors too."
The message already has been received at Central Elementary, where students this year will be creating an anthology of their own family stories.
"History comes in different ways. It isn't just war and certain battles. It's family history that's passed down to us," says Principal Toni Gerber.
It was this project, as well as the dream that the school could line up Polacco to dedicate its library when a new building is completed in a couple of years, that led staff members and teachers to visit Union City. In June, Mrs. Gerber and two others ran into Polacco at a restaurant there and started talking during a "scouting mission." When the full field trip took place July 14 they met again. This time, the entire group of 26 people was invited into the author's home, a renovated inn where Abraham Lincoln once stopped.
A highlight for Paulette Moszkowicz, a third-grade teacher, was when Polacco showed them "the keeping quilt," famous from her book of the same name. The book tells how the keeping quilt was made from relatives' clothing as a reminder of home and is passed down for generations.
"I almost cried," she remembers. "To actually see something that you've seen in a book over and over and over again. It does look exactly like the quilt in the book. It was so neat."
Michelle Gentry, a fifth-grade teacher, says the thrill of coming face-to-face with Polacco was heart-stopping. She admires Polacco's focus on accepting cultural differences, the importance of family traditions, and other positive messages and said the author is passionate about teaching.
"I've been dreaming for years of meeting her," Mrs. Gentry says. "She's a reminder that all students learn differently and at their own rate and that we cannot give up on students at any cost. That's her philosophy."
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