Polacco, Patricia

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POLACCO, Patricia

Born 11 July 1944, Lansing, Michigan

Daughter of William F. and Mary Ellen Gaw Barber; married Enzo Mario Polacco, 1979; children: Traci, Steven

Patricia Polacco writes and illustrates picture books for young children, drawing extensively from her family's stories and her own life adventures. Ranging from her great-grandmother's experiences as a newly arrived Russian immigrant to her personal exasperation with her older brother, Polacco's stories are always accompanied by vivid, detailed pictures that capture characters' expressions and gestures as well as ethnic decoration and patterns.

Polacco was born in Lansing, Michigan, in 1944, and when she was three, her parents divorced. For a time, they lived close to each other and remained friends, but when Polacco was six, her mother took a teaching job in Florida. After three years, they moved once more to Oakland, California, where Polacco presently lives. For years she visited her father in Michigan during the summer months, riding horses and exploring in the woods. During a part of her childhood, both sets of grandparents were still living.

As a child, Polacco had difficulty in school with math and reading, being diagnosed with dyslexia at fourteen. In compensation, she drew quite a bit, earning the praise of both her fellow students and teachers. She studied fine arts at the California College of Arts and Crafts and at Laney College, and obtained a Ph.D. in Greek and Russian iconography from the University of Melbourne in Australia. Subsequently, she did restoration and consulting work for museums.

Polacco's artwork remained among families and friends as she created greeting cards for special occasions. A friend who had expressed admiration for her art asked her to join in the local chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. For a year, she drew appropriate pictures for the group and quickly developed an eagerness for producing work for children. In 1987 she gathered together her representative work in an 80-pound portfolio and headed for New York. After five days in which she had scheduled 16 appointments with publishers, Dodd Mead accepted her first book, Meteor! (1987) within a week. Not only that, but simultaneous submissions led her to contracts with Bantam, Simon & Schuster, and Putnam. Every book she has created has sold.

Meteor! was based on the time a large meteor fell in Polacco's paternal grandparents' garden in Michigan. The unusual occurrence makes everyone in a small town feel special and accomplish tasks better. Polacco's next book, Rechenka's Eggs (1988), a fantasy about a goose that magically lays gorgeous Ukrainian decorated eggs, won the 1989 International Reading Association Best Picture Book award. Drawing upon her Ukrainian ancestors once more for The Keeping Quilt (1988), Polacco wrote about her great-grandmother as a child. The recent Russian immigrant turns to her clothes, the only things she owns from the time before she came to America, for comfort, and when she outgrows them, her mother creates a quilt that is handed down five generations. The Keeping Quilt won the Sidney Taylor Award.

Babushka's Doll (1990), a fantasy about a doll that comes to life to imitate a naughty child's behavior in order to show her how annoying it is, and Chicken Sunday (1992), a story about a black family's relationship to a little girl of Polacco's background, both won the Commonwealth Club of California award for ages 10 and under. Chicken Sunday also won the Golden Kite award for illustration from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Mrs. Katz and Tush (1993), a story about an older Jewish woman, a young African-American boy, and the tailless cat that brings them together, won the Jane Addams Picture Book Award.

In 1991 Polacco signed a ten-book contract with Putnam and won the Educators for Social Responsibility award. Since then, she has produced more than one book a year. Almost all of her books have received rave reviews that point out the imaginative plots and successful attempts at portraying characters from multicultural backgrounds achieving harmonious relationships. The warmth of family relationships across generations and the importance of traditions as Polacco portrays them is also praised. By the mid-1990s Polacco was veering toward more complex issues geared toward older readers. Her most ambitious book, Pink and Say (1994), presents the story of her paternal great-great-grandfather during the Civil War, in which he is rescued by a black Union soldier who is later executed by the Confederates.

Other Works:

Boat Ride with Lillian Two Blossom (1988). Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1988 (adapted 1988). Uncle Vova's Tree (1989). Just Plain Fancy (1990). Thunder Cake (1990). Appelemando's Dreams (1991). Some Birthday! (1991). Picnic at Mudsock Meadow (1992). Babushka Baba Yaga (1992). The Bee Tree (1993). Firetalking (1994). My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother (1994). Tikvah Means Hope (1994). Babushka's Mother Goose (1995). My Ol' Man (1995). Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair (1996). I Can Hear the Sun: A Modern Myth (1996). The Trees of the Dancing Goats (1996). In Enzo's Splendid Gardens (1997). Thank You, Mr. Falker (1998).


Reference works:

Children's Literature Review (1996). SATA (1993). TCCW (1995)