Monday morning I will begin another 180-day journey; much of it, happily, is a complete unknown. I have seen my students’ test scores, but I have not seen them. I do not know their hopes, their fears, their struggles or their strengths. I am unaware of who has support at home, or of who is the support at home. Yet we will embark on our journey together, fortified by the power of our contributions to our community of learners.
After the proverbial question-and-answer period I will initiate a discussion around the word journey. What does the word mean? What is a journey? What types of journeys do people take? All of this will segue nicely into my task at hand: to craft writers.
Writing is discovery. We write for a variety of reasons; not the least of which is to have our voices heard. Perhaps the most challenging (and important) part of my role as their teacher will be to help my students believe that they have a voice worth hearing. To do this, I will rely on my own voice, as well as the voices of others.
Our journey of discovery will find strength in the Power of the Picture Book. Its evolution over my lifetime has been inspiring. Writers such as Patricia Polacco, Tony Johnston, and Patricia McKissack have penned stirring accounts, some of them autobiographical, of remarkable journeys of the human spirit. I will use these stories to help my students discover where ideas come from.
Patricia Polacco recounts the personal journey through the darkness of her learning disability in “Thank You, Mr. Falker”. With the help of a beloved teacher Polacco uncovers the sweet taste of knowledge. Written in third person narrative, the author’s note lets readers know that this is, in fact, Polacco’s own story; “an odyssey of discovery and adventure.” Students will recognize Polacco’s feelings of loneliness and despair and will celebrate her triumph. Filled with voice and imagery (a future lesson in writing craft), her writing speaks to readers of all ages.
Once you’re aware of her learning disability, it isn’t surprising to observe Polacco’s remarkable ability to recall stories and events from her childhood in her additional works. Pink and Say is one such story. It is, without a doubt, the most powerful picture book I have read. The story of Pinkus Aylee (Pink) and Sheldon Russell Curtis (Say) was recounted to Polacco by her father, the great grandson of Curtis. The inspirational story of Pink and Say’s journey and friendship is timeless. Along with Polacco’s amazing voice and imagery, themes such as friendship, family, and man’s inhumanity to man make it a wonderful choice to use as a mentor text within the Writer’s Workshop.
Journeys and discoveries come in all shapes and sizes. Patricia Polacco’s stories, tried and true, will undoubtedly stand the test of time. I look forward to sharing her work with students and colleagues each school year. After reading “Thank You, Mr. Falker” to last year’s class I had my students write an essay on their expectations for the year; our journey through sixth grade. Martin, a struggling reader, said it best when he wrote “I hope the 180 days will be long.”
Let the journey begin!