In our recent blog post, “Great Books for Dyslexic Children Part 2: Patricia Polacco,” we discussed Ms. Polacco’s insights on growing up with dyslexia, the impact that teachers have on students, and the importance of being different. We’d now like to share the rest of her interview, which covers Polacco’s perspective on the significance of reading, her decision to write children’s books, and more.
Gemm Learning: How did your dyslexia affect your decision to write children’s stories?
Patricia Polacco: Well, I’ve never been terribly comfortable with writing things down. But I came from a family of amazing storytellers. And as soon as I relaxed and thought, “Look, I’m just going to tell the story and put it down on paper,” it became much easier.
GL: Why do you think reading is important?
PP: In the world as we know it, so much depends on your ability to decipher signs. For instance, if you’re driving, you better know what those signs say. Is it saying get off the freeway here? If you can’t read that, you’ll be hindered in every way imaginable.
But I still think reading opens you up to beautiful literature. And being able to read in your own time, and at your own speed, and absorbing the words in your own way and in your heart—that’s so important.
I think sometimes young people feel compelled to read faster. I was, and I found that daunting because I wanted to absorb and digest everything I was looking at, get the mental imagery, and literally just do the dance. And if you’re doing it too fast, you don’t have time to languish in the sentences and what they’re saying.
GL: On your website, you mention the importance of “hearing” stories. Why do you think that reading aloud and listening are so crucial to the reading process?
PP: I think what made want to read was being read to, by teachers as well as parents. Hearing rich, beautiful language used to just to incite me. I’d think, “Oh, if I could only write like that, or even think of words like that—where do they get those words?” And that, to me, was the icing on the cake as far as living my life and growing up and learning that rich language can be mine too. But you need to hear it! You need to read it, you need to be exposed to it.
GL: What is your advice for children with reading disabilities?
PP: Well, I know from my own experience that these children feel dumb and they feel stupid and they feel pointless and they feel hopeless, and they think that nothing is ever going to change, that they’re always going to be so far behind.
They don’t absorb exactly the way other people do, and they will have difficulty, sometimes, in writing and math and reading, but that certainly does not mean that they are dumb. I mean, if you think about it, Albert Einstein didn’t talk till he was four. And he failed math his entire school career, and he became, of course, who he became.
So, what I’m advising children to do is to realize that they are gifted, that every single kid is, but the human dilemma is we don’t open our gifts at the same time. Some of us take much longer to open the gifts, but they’re there—and I promise them the gifts are there.
About Patricia Polacco
Born in Michigan, Patricia Polacco grew up on a farm in Union City with her mother and grandparents. Her stories often reflect the strong relationships she had with her grandparent during these early years.
Polacco majored in Fine Art and achieved her Ph.D. in Art History. Eventually, her artistic background inspired her to write and illustrate children’s books, although she didn’t start until she was 41.
Although she moved away from Union City during her childhood, Polacco returned to Michigan after living in Oakland, California for nearly 37 years. She lives on the family farm today, where she works on her next books. Visit Polacco’s website to learn more.