Author: Patricia Polacco
Interest Level: K-4
About This Book: Once more Polacco shares a personal story with engaging results. This moving saga of her struggle with a learning disability makes an inspiring picture book. Young Tricia wants desperately to read but when she starts school she finds that the words "wiggle" on the page. Teased by her classmates, she retreats into dreams and drawings. It's not until the family moves to California and Tricia has managed to reach the fifth grade that a new teacher finally recognizes her pain and distress. What's more, he does something about it. Without belaboring the point, the author clearly shows the ways that children internalize critical comments made by others and suffer for their differences. This touching story is accompanied by illustrations in Polacco's signature style. Youngsters, as well as adults, may find themselves choked up at the emotions so eloquently described in words and pictures. Yet, like the tears young Tricia cries at the end of the book, these are ultimately tears of joy. Thank you, indeed, Mr. Felker (the real name of the teacher involved) for making it all possible. Readers will be grateful for the chance to recognize, appreciate, and share in Polacco's talent and creativity. -School Library Journal
Why It's On My Bookshelf: Usually, in this part of the review I reflect upon how the book has positively impacted students. I'd like to share something more personal about this story....
When I became an elementary school counselor, I was sort of lost in the world of bibliotherapy. I picked a lot of over the top generic books about feelings and bullying that were total flops with students. Maybe bibliotherapy was a myth because the books (I was choosing) were total snores. It got to the point where I was actually dreading reading to classes. And they weren't exactly cheering when I came into the room holding a book.
Thank You, Mr. Falker changed all of that for me and the kids. I truly consider it the first REAL bibliotherapy story I read to students. I watched how the story touched the students as we journeyed through the pages. First of all, they were quietly engaged from start to finish. Second, hands kept shooting up in the air to comment on certain elements of the story. Oh, and they clapped at the end! (it's a beautiful personal story by author Patricia Polacco) I'd been so used to the lack of interest when reading that I was blown away by the sheer excitement and rapid discussion that followed. Tricia's struggle with a learning disability, moving to a new school, being bullied and picked on was ACTUALLY impacting the class. There was a new energy in the room I'd never felt before. It was the story!! I could see it in students' faces. Hearts were opening...kids were relating to the main character Tricia. It was my first bibliotherapy experience and I began to recognize the healing power of books. I vowed right then and there - no more boring uninspiring stories!
So here is some advice I learned the hard way: When choosing new literature have an intent. What do kids' need? Counselors are usually the "eyes and the ears" of the school. Make it a point to know what challenges children are facing and mold your picks around those issues. Always check in with teachers and ask what they are seeing and hearing in the classroom, cafeteria, and playground. I've changed many of my lessons at the last minute after taking the temperature of a class. I might think we need to work on honesty but maybe friendship is the real issue. Teachers are always in the know. If it's not impactful and helpful to children then put it back on the shelf. And sometimes that's hard because there are a lot of good books out there I think kids want to hear - but they don't! And trust me, you'll know when it's a sleeper. Finally, are you passionate about what you're reading? I really get into the voice of the characters and the emotion of the story as I read. At the end of Thank You, Mr. Falker, I had to catch myself a little because I was a little teary on the last page (read it - you'll see why). I'm not saying become a dramatic actor but when I believe in a story - it shines through.
Now when I walk into classrooms, students are desperately trying to see what book I'm holding and are eager to open their hearts and minds. So thank you, Mr. Falker for not just helping Tricia, but helping me discover the beauty of bibliotherapy and the difference it can make in a boy or girl's life.