Patricia Polacco: Author Study and Mini Focus Lesson By:Lauren Zlotnick

Patricia Polacco: Author Study and Focus Mini-Lesson

By: Lauren Zlotnick

Author Study


Patricia Polacco is a world renowned author and illustrator, who to date, has written and illustrated over 115 children’s books. Born in 1944, Polacco’s Mother’s side of the family is Jewish immigrants from Russia and the Ukraine and her Father’s side of the family, from Ireland. With her unique and mixed cultural upbringing, Polacco used her wonderful life experiences as inspiration for many, if not all of her stories and illustrations. Not only did Polacco use her culture as inspiration for her writing, but she used a difficult life experience throughout her childhood, turning it into a learning experience for her readers. Growing up, Polacco struggled with a learning disability, Dyslexia.  Specifically, the story Thank You Mr. Falker describes her encounter with growing up with a learning disability. Overcoming many hurdles, Polacco moved forward and earned a Bachelors, Masters and a PH.D. She has traveled to many countries, lectured at various universities and continues to be an advocate for children’s rights.

Patricia Polacco has also won an enormous amount of honors and awards, both from her writing and her illustrations. Just to name a few, 1988 Sydney Taylor Award, Association of Jewish Librarians for Keeping Quilt, 1993 Parents Choice Award for Mrs. Katz and Tush, 1995 Best Book of the year New York State Association of Educators and Librarians for Pink and Say and 1999 Association of Educators of Dyslexic and Learning Disabled Readers, Best Book for Thank You Mr. Falker.

Stories read by the Author

Thunder Cake

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother

Ginger and Petunia

Mrs. Katz and Tush

When Lighting Comes in a Jar


Thunder Cake (1991)

“Even before the last flash had faded, the thunder ROLLED, BOOOOOMED, CRASHED, and BBBBAAAAARRRRROOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMED just above us.”

I named this strategy “Sound Effects”. Throughout the story Thunder Cake, Polacco uses different made-up word sounds to describe the sound of the thunder such as BBBBAAAROOO, or BA-BOOOM. As a writer, I think writing out these sounds allows the reader to really hear in their brain what is happening in the story.

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother (1994)

“Then he smiled that smile that only a rotten redheaded older brother could smile.”

“Then he laughed that rotten redheaded older brother laugh.”

Polacco uses “Repeating Details” throughout My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother to create continuity in the story. Slightly changing the wording at points, but still reminding the readers of the pattern in the book of the Rotten Redheaded Older Brother.  As a writer, I would use this to help students with comprehension, constantly reiterating the theme of the story.

Mrs. Katz and Tush (1992)

“Mrs. Katz cooked for her,

Brushed her,

Knitted toys for her,

And even read to her.”

Ginger and Petunia (2007)

“Ginger does everything for Petunia. She cooks for her. She sews blankets for her and takes her for rides in her little red car.”

I named this strategy “Listing”. I noticed that in both stories, Mrs. Katz and Tush and Ginger and Petunia, both stories about owners and their pets, Polacco writes lists of what the owners do. I find her using this style of writing in her other stories, listing details in short sentences. As a writer, I think this strategy is a quick, simple, organized way to describe to a person, place, animal etc. to readers

Focus Mini-Lesson

Introduction/Hook: Class, I would like everyone to close their eyes and listen very carefully as I read off some sounds (Teacher reads off various sounds, for example, Hiiiiisssss, chiiirp chirp, Diiing Donnnng). Okay, everyone open your eyes. Can anyone guess what words I was describing from the sounds that you heard me read?

Class guesses: Snake, bird, doorbell.

Great listening boys and girls. Many authors such as Patricia Polacco, use various strategies such as this to help enhance their writing, one of which is using sounds to describe words. Let’s look deeper into Patricia Polacco and other author’s writing to see how they incorporate sounds into their stories.


“Even before the last flash had faded, the thunder ROLLED, BOOOOOMED, CRASHED, and BBBBAAAAARRRRROOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMED just above us.”

Explain:  In Patricia Polacco’s story Thunder Cake, Patricia uses sounds such as BOOOOOMED and CRASHED to make the sound of thunder. When I read the different sounds of thunder, I instantly think of a time when I heard thunder and the sound plays in my mind. Does anyone else hear the sound in their head too as they read the words?

Teaching Point:

This writing strategy is called “Sound Effects”. As I read through Patricia Polacco books and many other authors’ books, I found that using sounds to describe words really enhances the story. Not only can “Sound Effects” enhance the writing, but they can be used to break up reading, give a sense of playfulness, or for pure aesthetics at times. Writing “Sound Effects” allows us to not only see the words on the page, but to hear the sounds as we read in our minds.


Let’s take a look at another one of Patricia Polacco’s stories, “OH, LOOK!”

“But there’s the gate and it’s unlocked.

Let’s go through it!

Squeak, squeak, squeak it goes as we go through it.”

When I read the squeak, squeak, squeak of the gate, I hear and see an old wooden gate opening in my head.

Jan Brett is another author who uses our writing strategy, Sound Effects in her story The Mitten.

“The bear, tickled by the mouse’s whiskers, gave an enormous sneeze.


Now as soon as I heard this Sound Effect, I instantly thought about a time I sneezed or I heard someone sneeze and I felt like I was really listening to the sound of a big sneeze.

Guided Practice:

Now class, I would like everyone to get into your small reading groups. I am going to walk around with a bag of words. One member from each group will reach in the bag and choose a word and share it with the group. Once the word is read out loud in your small group, I would like everyone to write their “Sound Effect” for the word in their writing journal, for example if your group picked the word “chalk” an example of a Sound Effect might be “SKKKAREEE-TCH”. After everyone has written their Sound Effect I would like everyone to go around the group and share their Sound Effect to see the different sounds everyone came up with. You can see if anyone thought of the same Sound Effect when they heard their word, you can compare sounds with one another. I will give everyone 5-7 minutes to think about their Sound Effect, write it in their writing journal and share it with the group. Once everyone has shared in your small group, I would like one person from each group to share the word their group picked and one of the Sound Effects they wrote with the whole class.


I would like everyone to return to their seats now for free writing. During your free write today, please incorporate at least one Sound Effect into your writing, or look back at your previous free writes and see where you could have added a Sound Effect and write your sound over the word.


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