Why I Heart Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco, you never let me down.

This week we read the Butterfly, written about a French family hiding a Jewish family in World War II.  Despite the mature content and need to build prior knowledge for students before reading, this book was a huge success in our classroom.  My students were enthralled.

“That’s the most exciting discussion we’ve ever had!” one student beamed on her way to lunch.

We read it over the course of three days, taking the time to develop new vocabulary (Germany, France, World War II, Holocaust, Jewish, Nazi), and stopping to infer what characters were feeling throughout the book.   Students even identified that the butterfly was a metaphor for the Jewish people before reaching the end, when this comparison is fleshed out.  The goal was for students to make text-to-world connections, which they quickly did, tying the story to tales of the underground railroad and slavery.

My favorite moment, however, occurred after reading the author’s note that revealed the book was based on a true story from Polacco’s own family.  The students erupted in applause.  There are few moments more touching in my classroom than when a book affects students so much that they lose their self-consciousness and applaud with such wonder.  So far, it has only happened a couple times.

Patricia Polacco is my favorite author of children’s books because she tackles tough subjects respectfully.  This was not the first of her works that gave me chills of anticipation as I read aloud to my students, leaving me at many points on the verge of tears.  What I like most about her writing is how personal she makes it. Practically every one of her stories relates to her own life and experiences, pulling the reader into incredibly tender, real moments that children and adults alike can appreciate.

I strive to someday do the same in my own writing.

I highly recommend this read aloud if you’re prepared to build prior knowledge and set the tone for maturity ahead of time.

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