Top 100 Picture Books #53: Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Could never read it to the kids without getting teary eyed. Great story about what a difference a teacher can make in a child’s life. – Cheryl Phillips
This is such a powerful books to read to young kids. All of the kids benefit from hearing this semi autobiographical story, but especially the struggling readers. – Alexandra Eichel
I think it’s fair to say that this book was a big surprise. Not that people voted on it, of course. People voted on it on the last poll, but its numbers were far too low to get on the final count. So to see it make it, and at the more than respectable #53 . . . well, it just does the heart good.
The description from the publisher reads, “In this autobiographical story, Little Trisha, overjoyed at the thought of learning how to read struggles when she finds that all the letters and numbers get jumbled up. Her classmates make matters worse by calling her dummy. Finally, in fifth grade, she is lucky enough to have a teacher who recognizes Trisha’s incredible artistic ability — and understands her problem, and takes the time to lead her to the magic of reading. Although dyslexia is never mentioned in the book, this story will provide great reassurance to children who struggle to overcome learning disabilities.”
As you may already know, the book is autobiographical for the most part. On her website Ms. Polacco addresses this saying, “I REMEMBER FEELING DUMB, THAT TERRIBLE FEELING ABOUT MYSELF WAS COMPOUNDED BY BEING TEASED BY A BULLY. THAT BOY CHANGED MY LIFE AND MADE ME FEEL SO UNSAFE AND SO SAD THAT I DIDN’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL ANYMORE. MR. FALKER, MY HERO, MY TEACHER, NOT ONLY STOPPED THIS BOY FROM TEASING ME, BUT HE ALSO NOTICED THAT I WASN’T READING WELL AND GOT A READING SPECIALIST TO HELP.”
It is undoubtedly the best-known (and probably best period) picture book featuring a dyslexic child we’ve ever seen. All the more reason to check out this lesson plan called Digging Deeper: Developing Comprehension Using Thank You, Mr. Falker.”
It has some sequels, so to speak, of its own. Using the same characters and themes, Ms. Polacco returns time and again to her own youth for inspiration. In 2010 she published The Junkyard Wonders in which Tricia finds her tribe. This year we’re seeing the publication of The Art of Miss Chew where Tricia is able to connect with an art teacher as well.
PW said of Thank You, Mr. Falker, “Polacco’s tale is all the more heartfelt because of its personal nature. Young readers struggling with learning difficulties will identify with Trisha’s situation and find reassurance in her success. Polacco’s gouache-and-pencil compositions deftly capture the emotional stages, frustration, pain, elation of Trisha’s journey.”
Said SLJ, “Thank you, indeed, Mr. Felker (the real name of the teacher involved) for making it all possible. Readers will be grateful for the chance to recognize, appreciate, and share in Polacco’s talent and creativity.”
I liked Booklist‘s point that, “Trisha isn’t idealized: we see her messy and desperate, poring over her books. This will encourage the child who feels like a failure and the teacher who cares.”
Hear Ms. Polacco herself speak about the teacher who changed everything for her. It’s kind of a tear-jerker itself, and she’s just great. You can see some here and the rest here.
This is also cute. Here we have some kids doing one of the songs from the Thank You, Mr. Falker musical in a warm-up.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network