This picture book by Patricia Pollacco made me cry when I tried to read parts of it to a friend on the phone. The book is a very wordy picture book. I think for groups of children in a classroom, I wouldn’t try it until grade 4 or 5, but reading it one-on-one at home you could try an 8-9 yr old. Beware that a child dies in the story.
The Junkyard Wonders follows Patricia’s book Thank you Mr. Falker which is a tribute to her teacher, Mr. Falker, who helped her learn to read. It is a lovely, honest story about the struggles a child faces in school when her abilities are not in synch with school learning expectations. Here’s a quote from Patricia's website about the book:
This story is truly autobiographical. It is about my own struggle with not being able to read.
This story honors the teacher that took time to see a child that was drowning and needed help. I am dyslexic, disnumeric and disgraphic. Can you imagine what it was like to try and learn along with other students when I needed specialized help...help that wasn't available in those days. I remember feeling dumb, that terrible feeling about myself was compounded by being teased by a bully. That boy changed my life and made me feel so unsafe and so sad that I didn't want to go to school anymore. Mr. Falker, my hero, my teacher, not only stopped this boy from teasing me, but he also noticed that I wasn't reading well and got a reading specialist to help
To this day, I remember the first day that words on a page had meaning to me...Mr. Falker had reached into the most lonely darkness and pulled me into bright sunlight and sat me on a shooting star. I shall never forget him...so this book was written both to honor Mr. Falker, but also to warn young people that mean words have a terrible power...and that they should do all that they can to see that teasing stops at their school.
Thank you, Mr. Falker,
The Junkyard Wonders is also a tribute to a teacher and an autobiographical and poignant tale. Patricia asked her separated parents if for one year she could go to school where her dad and grandma lived for she had made a friend during her summer stay there. She thought that perhaps she could start on an equal footing in this new school and not be known as “the dumb kid.” She finds herself in the junkyard, the name the other children give to this classroom filled with students who are different.
On the first day of class the teacher, Mrs. Petersen, starts the day by reciting the definition of genius from a dictionary. She has the students copy this definition on the board and on notes and asks them to place the notes on mirrors, walls, etc. so that they can read it everyday, memorize it, and know that this is the definition of who they are – geniuses.
A wonderful story follows. The ending is so satisfactory – and makes me cry. In the postscript of the book she tells a little bit about the grown-up lives of her classmates from the junkyard. One of the children became artistic director of the American Ballet Theater Company in New York. Another a textile designer in Paris, and another an aeronautical engineer for NASA. And Patricia became and is a well-known, respected writer and illustrator of children’s books. They all made it to the moon!
I love all of Patricia’s books. Many of her books have autobiographic material woven into them . Her stories envelope me in a sense of warmth and family. The Junkyard Wonders reached deep into my heart and helped illuminate some of feelings from childhood school experiences. It makes me want everyone who works, lives, or takes care of children to be like Mrs. Peterson and tell the children in their lives that they are geniuses. Thank you, Patricia Polacco!