Patricia Polacco: Author Study and Lesson on Personification By: Jessica Fernandez

Jessica Fernandez

ED608 – Professor Baker-Doyle

Author Study: Patricia Polacco

Background and History of the Author:

Patricia Polacco is a children’s book author and illustrator who was born in 1944 in Lansing, Michigan. She has written and published more than 115 children’s books – all with consistent stylistic features visually and textually – while still leaving room for the reader to be surprised. Her mother’s family immigrated to the US from Russia and the Ukraine and are of Jewish decent and her father’s family was from Ireland. This meshed cultural background is reflected in much of her published work. A common character in her books is the character of “Babushka” which means grandmother in Russian, it seems as though her grandmother likely played a great role in her life and she is paying tribute to her in her works such as Thunder Cakes, My Rotten Redheaded Little Brother, and Rechenka’s Eggs. Many of her works have strong adult characters playing positive roles in her stories. Something very inspirational about this author/illustrator is that she faced adversity through her struggle learning to read due to dyslexia. She was able to overcome her learning disability and learn to read at age 14 and still become a very accomplished writer. She was able to use art as an outlet for her struggles with teasing in school and her childhood experiences seem to have influenced many of her literary works and their themes. Polacco often discusses many very heavy topics in most of her books, yet in a way that is suitable for a younger reader. Some of the topics discussed in her books include: death, honesty, integrity, bullying, friendship, family, understanding differences, love, values, and traditions. The way her themes are woven within the plot of her books is very thoughtful and well executed.

Polacco’s aesthetic style is consistent in her illustrations, although the stories may be very different thematically and in plot – her artistic style is ever-present. The line-work is varied and often wonky and the rendering of her characters are very stylistic with their distorted features, overly rosy cheeks and exaggerated facial expressions. Her illustrations include a ton of detail, a muted color palette, and a variety of pattern and texture. Polacco has won many literary awards and received much attention and praise for her writing and illustration from the 1980s until present.


The books I read for this author study include:

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother


Thunder Cakes

Some Birthday!


Chicken Sunday

Mr. Lincoln’s Way

Thank You Mr. Falker

Literary Moves/ Strategies Used:

Striking adjectives: The author uses adjectives that are often unexpected and help to create a more vivid image in the reader’s mind. For example, in Thunder Cakes the use of “on sultry summer days”, is an unexpected way to describe a summer day, yet it does evoke a fitting and relatable feeling of summer. She does this often throughout many of her books and as a writer this can be used in order to provide variety within the text and an essence of surprise for the reader.

Striking Verbs:  This crafting technique is used to catch our attention – Polacco often uses verbs that the reader would not automatically pair up with the subject – this creates a much more rich reading experience. For example, in Thunder Cakes “clouds glow”, as readers it is likely that we would not immediately pair this verb with clouds but rather something like a candle or the moon. Meteor, shows another example of striking verbs: “the geese honked their alarm, the chickens cackled, the goats pleaded and jumped wildly about.” We again see the author using verbs that do not immediately match the subject yet they still work within the piece and provide much diversity of language.

Runaway Sentences: Another literary tool used within Polacco’s work is runaway sentences. This technique can be used in writing to create a frantic, desperate, or excited feeling. When a writer includes runaway sentences it can create a feeling of being carried away or overwhelmed by something within the story and can create a varied rhythm in the text. An example of this can be seen in My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, which says “he could run the fastest, climb the highest, throw the farthest, sit the longest, get the dirtiest, burp the loudest, and spit the farthest.” This really helps to create

Personification: The author uses personification often throughout her texts by giving human characteristics to describe an object, animal, or place. This helps to make her descriptions of inanimate objects much more unique and helps the reader relate more to the literary work. An example of this is in Thunder Cake, “the voice of thunder.”  The author is giving a human characteristic to the natural phenomenon of thunder – it provides a beautiful description of thunder that is not necessarily traditional. Personification can be used to build elaborate setting and mood in literary works.

Direct-Contact Sentence: These sentences interrupt the narrative in order to speak directly to the audience. There is an example of this at the end of Bully, when the author continues the narration but ends by the protagonist asking a question directly to the reader. “But I have a decision to make, should Jamie and I go back to school and hope for best, or should we go to another? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?”  This technique can be used to further engage the reader and in this case provide further reflection for the reader.

Focus Mini-Lesson: Personification

Patricia Pollacco


Use smartboard to display images illustrating examples of personification. Students will turn to their table partner and discuss what they think the images have in common. Partners will share out to the class. The teacher will elaborate on their responses explaining that personification is when you give human characteristics to an inanimate (or non-human) object.


“As you see in the first image the wind is whistling – people can whistle – but wind can not – because the wind sometimes makes a sound like whistling then a writer can choose to use the tool of personification to create a more unique and interesting description of the wind. The image that says the slices of bread jumped out of the toaster is an example of personification because bread does not have legs or feet (like people do) to jump but a writer can use the verb jump to describe the way bread comes out of the toaster.”

The goal of this lesson is to gain an understanding of personification by studying Patricia Pollacco who uses personification effectively within her texts. An example of Pollacco using personification is found in Thunder Cake, she says “the voice of thunder.”

Turn and Talk:

What do you think this line might mean?

Why do you think the author is choosing to describe thunder in this way?

Students can share out their discussed responses in whole class discussion. The teacher will elaborate upon there responses:

“These were great responses. The author is giving a human characteristic to the natural phenomenon of thunder – it provides a beautiful description of thunder that is not necessarily traditional.    People can talk and have a voice but thunder can not. The author chooses to use the human characteristic of “voice” to describe the noise that thunder makes. Polacco may choose to use personification in her writing because it helps to give life to her writing, provides variety, and helps her connect to her audience.”

Teaching Point

  • Craft name: Personification
  • A writer can use personification, similar to the way Polacco does to make descriptions of inanimate objects much more unique and to help the reader relate more to the literary work. Personification is also a great tool for building elaborate setting and mood in literary works.


  • A great example of personification is within the book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. This whole book gives human characteristics to the only other character in the book – the tree.
  • Another example of Polacco’s use of personification is in The Junkyard Wonders: “But her eyes, her eyes were friendly.” This is an example of personification because it gives a human characteristic to an inanimate object.

Guided Practice

            Students will participate in turn and talk and then in group discussion considering how they can use personification within their own writing. Questions they will discuss to guide their thinking are:

-How can you incorporate personification within your writing piece?

-How will this improve your writing?

-How will this writing technique engage your audience?

-Come up with one example of personification that can be added to your writing piece.

Teacher will provide suggestions, feedback, and elaborate upon student responses in order to further develop understanding of personification.


  • As you can see from our practice, personification can be really helpful to create more variety in your writing and describe objects in a unique way. This is a way to capture your audience. Students will incorporate personification into their writing pieces. The teacher will provide suggestions on how to most effectively use this tool within writing.

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