Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco grew up hearing family stories from her Ukrainian grandmother. In the absence of a television set, Polacco's "Babushka" told gripping tales in front of the crackling fireplace. In keeping with oral tradition, Polacco retold these stories to her own children. It wasn't until Polacco was 41 that she started to write down this family history and illustrate it.

Patricia Polacco is now the author and illustrator of many charming picture books. Not surprisingly, her stories often involve meaningful interactions between young and old people as well as an intermingling of different cultures. She has written and illustrated Thunder Cake, The Keeping Quilt, Chicken Sunday, and many other favorites.

An Exclusive Interview

In this Reading Rockets interview, Patricia Polacco talks about her childhood, books, illustrations, and more. Click on the links below to learn about this dynamic storyteller turned author and illustrator.

The Life of Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco has fond memories of her Ukrainian, Russian, and Irish grandparents. She spent many hours learning from them and listening to their stories. Polacco particularly remembers her years on the family farm in Michigan, where she lived with her mother and grandparents. When Polacco was in elementary school, she moved to Oakland, California, where her neighbors "came in as many colors, ideas, and religions as there are people."

Throughout her school years, Polacco struggled with reading. Far behind her fellow classmates, she was teased enough to believe that she was just dumb. It wasn't until Polacco was 14 that a special high school teacher recognized her dyslexia. Once she received additional help, Polacco learned to read well and caught up with her peers. Her ability as an artist, however, had never been in question. Fellow classmates had always been impressed by her drawings.

Polacco graduated from college with a degree in fine art and eventually received a Ph.D. in art history. After working in art restoration, she became a mother and dedicated much of her time to her two children. When her son was diagnosed with diabetes, she made a wordless picture book to help him understand what he needed to do to take care of himself. Polacco also started writing down old family stories and illustrating them. When she joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, she learned how to prepare picture books for publication. Then, in a whirlwind trip to New York City, Polacco met with 16 different publishers and sold many of her stories.

After living much of her life in urban Oakland, Patricia Polacco has now moved back to the family farm in Michigan. She lives in a renovated, old house, which also serves as an art and storytelling center for local children. In another old house, just one block away, Polacco has her own art studio, where she continues to create new children's books based on old family stories.

Books by This Author

Babushka's Doll

Age Level: 3-6
When Natasha visits her grandmother, Babushka lets her play with a very special doll. The demanding child quickly learns that having demands made by someone else can be very trying indeed! Natasha behaves differently upon Babushka's return in this imaginative, handsomely illustrated tale that gently teaches.

Mrs. Katz and Tush

Age Level: 6-9
In this special Passover story, Larnel Moore, a young African-American boy, and Mrs. Katz, an elderly Jewish woman, develop an unusual friendship through their mutual concern for an abandoned cat named Tush. Together they explore the common themes of suffering and triumph in each of their cultures.

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother

Age Level: 6-9
Her older brother, Richard, says he can do everything better – even come through for his sister when she falls off the carousel and needs stitches. Sibling rivalry is humorously but realistically portrayed here in both text and illustration as the author draws on her days growing up on her grandmother’s Michigan farm.

Pink and Say

Age Level: 6-9
Both Pink, the son of black slaves, and Say, a poor, white boy, fought in the Union army during the Civil War. Only Say survives the Andersonville Prison to tell of their remarkable friendship and how Pink saved Say and taught him how to read. This poignant story, complemented by Patricia Polacco's signature illustrations, is based on a story from the author’s family.

The Keeping Quilt

Age Level: 6-9

Anna's mother made a quilt to help the family remember their life in Russia. It has since passed from one generation to the next, used to chronicle as well as remember family members and their stories. Readers will empathize with the handsomely illustrated story from the author's own experience in which Polacco uses both color and and black and white contrast to focus children's attention on this special keepsake.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats

The Trees of the Dancing Goats
Age Level: 6-9

Polacco has a warm, colorful illustrative style she applies to what at first seems the simple story of a Jewish girl, Trisha, and her Christian neighbors, whose bout with scarlet fever at Christmas threatens to ruin Trisha's Hanukkah. Trisha and her family respond with a loving gesture that is rewarded in kind.