I found Patricia Polacco's latest book The Junkyard Wonders last Sunday while perusing the bookstore. I'm such a creature of habit when it comes to shopping at the bookstore... a cup of coffee is a must, I search the "new releases" display, I check my favorite authors to see if there are any new titles I have missed, then I look at which titles are facing out (and wonder why so many celebrities think they can write), and finally I thumb through the remaining titles until I find a book or two that intrigue me. I take my five or ten titles and I plop in the most comfy spot I can to make my choices. The Junkyard Wonders made it in to my bag this week.
This book is classic Polacco... rich story telling, beautiful illustrations, wonderful words, schema-rich story line. I love when I read through one of Polacco's books and say, "Can this be true?" And, then at the end of the read she includes a small snippet of how the idea developed from her experiences. Patricia Polacco is a master at taking a slice of life and growing it into a complex, rich, and engaging story.
In The Junkyard Wonders, the main character Trish discovers that her new classroom is known as "The Junkyard," the classroom for students with special needs. In fact, she moves to live with her grandparents so she won't have to be singled out because of her learning difficulties and is crushed when she discovers that despite the move she's placed in a "special" classroom. What she discovers is that all the students in Mrs. Peterson's room have unique gifts and special talents. I love Mrs. Peterson, she's innovative, quirky, and wise... and not once do we hear about her intervention checklist. She teaches with "tears" and laughter and insight... not with "tiers" and checklists and data points and plot graphs and paperwork and progress monitoring... her response to intervention is to know her children and to challenge their intellect (oops, a little sermonizing). Trish and her classmates realize that Mrs. Peterson recognizes their unique abilities and strengths as they grow together as a community of learners.
The Junkyard Wonders celebrates children and their distinctive gifts. Mrs. Peterson helps each child find wonder in learning and discovery in their own questions. She divides the students into tribes and melts the entire group together. They make a visit to a local junkyard searching for ideas for science fair projects. Each student collects things that interests him or her. They refurbish old model airplane and hope to fly it from the school's roof. Of course, their plan is challenged, but in the end... well, let's just say the ending is symbolic. The message is so apropos for today's educational climate!
I am so appreciative of Patricia Polacco's sincerity, voice, candor, and insight. I can't wait to hear her speak at our annual Colorado reading convention in February. In this book, she's once again used her own experiences as a learner to nudge us to think deeply about our own teaching. Perhaps it's time to bring out our inner "Mrs. Peterson" and take a closer look at some of the things we're being asked to do as educators that just don't quite mesh with the needs of our students, eh? I wonder if we're encouraging the "Trishes" in our classrooms...