Polacco's tour to the Land of Lincoln, Logan County, was made
possible by West Lincoln-Broadwell School Board with Robert
Henderson initiating the event, and through the generosity of the
Woods Foundation. Ms. Polacco’s school visits were coordinated by
Heather Baker, Principal of WLB.
The library audience was full of children and their parents; adults
are also fans of her writing. When asked why she writes children’s
book, Polacco responded that she does not deliberately write for
children. “I don’t write necessarily for children. I write for
myself, what interests me. Family and home are especially important
in my books,” she said.
Polacco was unabashed when she said that some have described her
books as sentimental. “We live in a steely world, and I want to
soften that hardness with my writing. I want everyone to know they
are magnificent in their own way, and to appreciate the wonder of
the world. Books can teach us about the connection between
everyone,” she said.
Patricia Polacco has written more than 100 books, and always has
more projects in mind, constantly being stimulated by what she sees
around her. “I get ideas just from living,” she said.
Two of her recent books are “The Bravest Man in the World” and
The Bravest Man is about Wallace Hartley, one of the musicians who
played on the deck of the Titanic as it sank.
“Remembering Vera” is about a stray dog that was adopted by the
Coast Guard and served with distinction for many years. Vera became
a hero and when she died, the Coast Guard saluted her with a proper
military ceremony. Part of the book concerns Polacco’s search for
Vera’s grave fifty years after she died. The Coast Guard denied ever
having heard the story. Through her persistence and some unique
circumstances, she was able to find Vera’s grave on the Coast Guard
base in San Francisco, after fifty years and countless renovations
on the base.
“I’m a story teller, and I came from a family of story tellers. They
have been my inspiration from the beginning,” she said.
After a career restoring antiquities and a Ph.D., Polacco began to
write and illustrate books at age forty. Her inspiration was her son
who had childhood diabetes. With such a complex illness, it was
difficult for him to understand what was happening. She set about
writing and illustrating a book for him that would explain the
illness on his level of understanding.
After that experience, those who read the book urged her to continue
writing. And the rest is history. “I just fell into writing at a
point when I was not that into working in a museum restoring pottery
from centuries ago,” she said.
Her family and the generations who came before are the subjects of
many of her books. Her annoying older, red-haired brother was the
bane of her childhood, and has come in for some good natured ribbing
as the subject of many books. But her signature writing and the book
for which she is most famous is “The Keeping Quilt.”
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“The Keeping Quilt” is an actual family heirloom that has been
incorporated into a book. When her family immigrated to the United
States, they left home and relatives behind, a sad journey for a
close family. To keep in touch, many family members contributed
pieces of clothing that were incorporated into a quilt, a sort of
family genealogy. A person could look at the quilt and pick out an
area that represented a loved one who could not be present. The
quilt took on a life of its own, serving as a cloak for a childhood
superhero, the cover of a hupa under which a Jewish couple is
married, a precious baby’s first swaddling cloth after birth.
The unusual part of the book “The Keeping Quilt” is that it is a work in
progress. As each new grand-child is born, as each new couple is married, as a
quilt to cuddle into and remember family, a new chapter is added to the book. It
is a living part of the Polacco family. “Family history in any family is a
quilt, with parts that are contributed by everyone,” she said.
Patricia Polacco is an activist for a strong and varied education for everyone.
“I am an advocate for art, music, and drama in all schools,” she said. She is
dismayed at the lack of these subjects in many schools where education is
focused on taking tests. “We chase knowledge through the pages of a book, and
teachers are the ones to lead us through these adventures. We need to honor our
teachers,” she said.
She is also a strong foe of bullying in school. One of her classmates in middle
school was teased and bullied by his classmates because of his unusual name and
mild manners. After graduating he moved to Canada and hooked up with Jim Henson.
His name is Frank Oz, co-founder of the Muppets and a director and producer of
block buster Hollywood movies.
Another of her classmates who suffered the stings of other children is Tom
Hanks. “We need to be kind to others, and children need to be taught to treat
each other with respect,” she said.
When the meeting at the Lincoln Public Library moved to the question and answer
portion, it was interesting to hear questions from the children attending, as
well as from many of the adults in attendance who had read her books not because
they had children, but for what she had to say. Her writing appeals to all age
Patricia Polacco is a Renaissance woman, writer, artist, playwright, speaker,
advocate for a strong education and close family ties.
The community owes West Lincoln Broadwell and the Woods Foundation heartfelt
thanks for bringing her to Logan County.
Special mention also goes to the Lincoln Public Library and Director Richard
Sumrall for keeping the library open past the official closing time so that Ms.
Polacco could sign copies of her books and greet her many fans personally.