Author Study & Mini-Lesson: Patricia Polacco

Author Study & Mini-Lesson

~ Patricia Polacco ~

Compiled by: Kylie Milosevic



Author Patricia Polacco was once a young girl who lived on a farm in Union City, Michigan and came from a family of storytellers. Born on July 11, 1944, Patricia lived the first five years of her life on a farm with her mother, one set of grandparents and her beloved babushka. She claims this to be the most magical time of her life and has even written multiple books about some of those memories, such as: My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, The Keeping Quilt, and Thunder Cake. When her babushka passed away, Patricia and her family moved to Oakland, California. Patricia was very fond of this time in her, as well, and wrote the book Chicken Sunday to tell a cherished story about a few very close friends she met when she moved there.

Polacco’s children’s books are inspired by her unique family heritage of Ukrainian, Russian, and Irish, her childhood memories, and her very own imagination. She describes her writing as ethnic and primitive. She writes in multiple voices, some being an Eastern European voice, a Midwestern American farm voice, and a Jewish voice. As a child she wasn’t a very good student and struggled with dyslexia while finally learning to read at the age of 14. However, she always had an interest and a talent for drawing and painting. Patricia didn’t start writing children’s book until the age of 41, but ever since she has won numerous awards for her work and has captivated thousands of hearts through her genuine storytelling.

Books Read by Patricia Polacco:
  • Chicken Sunday
  • Pink and Say
  • My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
  • The Keeping Quilt
  • Thunder Cake

Literary Moves & Strategies used by Patricia Polacco:

  • Noteworthy Adjectives
    • Example: “Richard gave me one of his extra-rotten, weasel-eyed, greeny-toothed grins.” – My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
    • Noteworthy Adjectives can be used to enhance the description of anything! I love how Patricia Polacco used Noteworthy Adjectives all throughout My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother. Adjectives like these can help to better define a character and/or another character’s feeling towards the person or thing being described. Students could use Noteworthy Adjectives to give the characters in their narratives more personality and help their readers better visual their characters, or feelings towards characters, in their writing.
  • Come-to-Life Verbs
    • Example: “Her skin glowed as she smiled.” – Chicken Sunday
    • Patricia Polacco shows us how verbs can be used to make average, lifeless things come to life. Instead of using an adjective to describe Miss Eula’s skin, she brought the description of Miss Eula’s appearance to life by using the verb “glowed”. Students could practice using Come-to-Life Verbs to describe typically lifeless things and bring them to life. This form of personification could be used to make a description writing piece more exciting and interesting.
  • One Liners
    • Example: “Here it is… Thunder Cake!” and “Then the thunder ROARED!” – Thunder Cake
    • In Thunder Cake the author uses One Liners, or one sentence paragraphs, to add the to affect and emotion of the moment in the story. Students could use One Liners to sprinkle throughout their narratives as a way to enhance a moment. In Thunder Cake, each time the thunder roared Polacco used a One Liner to give the reader a better feel for the impact that thunder had the emotions of the character. Students could incorporate this strategy into a moment they feel could be enhanced with a strong One Liner paragraph.

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Mentor Text: Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
Grade Levels: 2-4


  • Introduce the Goal: “Today we will learn how to make an exciting or important part of a story stand out to the reader.”
  • Show: read aloud an example of a one sentence paragraph in “Thunder Cake”
    • “BAROOOOOOOM went the thunder.”
  • Explain:
    • Think & Discuss – have students share why they think the author chose to use a one sentence paragraph at this particular moment in the story
    • Explain – “The author chose to use a one-sentence paragraph here to show the reader the impact that the thunder had on the feelings of the character and to emphasize that moment.”

Teaching Point:

  • Name the Craft: “One-Liners”
    • Explain – “Let’s call these one sentence paragraphs “One-Liners”. One-liners can be used throughout your writing to add emphasis to an important moment and show just how much that moment is impacting your characters.


  • “Thunder Cake” Example 2:
    • “Here is it… Thunder Cake!” – page 8
    • Briefly discuss how the one-liner adds emphasis to that moment in the story and how it shows the impact it had on the character.
  • Personal Example: Show the students how a one-liner can be added to a teacher-example personal narrative.
    • Think Aloud – Model how to decide where to add a one-liner by finding a place in the teacher-example narrative of “My Trip to Greece” where more emphasis could be shown using the writing strategy.
    • Explain – “This would be a great place to add a one-liner because it could add emphasis on the impact of the moment. A one-liner should be kept rather short to increase the impact that it will have on the reader. I think I’ll add… The crystal clear, icy blue water washed over my toes. This is a good place to use the strategy because this moment had a lot of impact on myself as a character in my story. I had been waiting for that moment for a long time and this is where my toes finally met the Mediterranean Sea! I think my one-liner will help my readers to feel the impact it had on me. Can’t you feel how I might have felt?”

Guided Practice:

  • Envision with Author’s Writing:
    • Read aloud the second to last page in “Thunder Cake”
    • Brainstorm: as a class discuss ideas for how Patricia Polacco could add in a one-liner to add emphasis the moment Grandma added the last strawberry to the Thunder Cake
    • Add in a student example to the excerpt and leave posted for students to refer to during their writing time
  • Envision with Students’ Writing:
    • Help students to envision how they can use the strategy by giving a few examples of how their narratives could be edited to add in a one-liner
    • Example: “So-and-so is writing about the first time she went horseback riding. The moment that she saddled onto the horse for the first time has a lot of impact on the character. She could emphasize this moment by adding a one-liner here, like…  There I finally sat, high off the ground, holding on tight.
    • Think-Pair-Share: Students will be instructed to think about a moment within their narratives that have a lot of impact of their characters and how they might use a one-liner to emphasize the moment.


  • “Today during writing workshop I would like you to think about a few important moments within your narratives that have a lot of impact on your characters and how you could emphasize these moments by adding a one-liner like Patricia Polacco did in Thunder Cake”.
  • During writing time, walk around to conference with students. Ask them if they have a found a place to add in a one-liner, or assist them with their thinking on how to find a good place to use the strategy within their story.


Biography References:


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