Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, May 7, 2012

To Really See...

After a rainy beginning the sun was shining in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.  Errands had been run and the yearly splurge on annual flowers had commenced.  Feeling happy but wanting a break I decided to read the newest title by one of my favorite authors and illustrators.

I read the front jacket flap, the story, the back jacket flap and promptly started to cry; touched to the core.  From our first to last breath people will come in and out of our lives making their mark for better or worse.  The Art of Miss Chew (G. P. Putnam's Sons) written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco is a loving tribute to a teacher who saw what needed to be seen.

During a summer spent with her grandmother, an artist, and father in Michigan, Patricia discovers her natural talent for drawing.  Excited to take art next year at school in California, she is disappointed to discover no such class is offered; only art on a cart for a short while each week.  But Patricia's new teacher, an Irishman, Mr. Donovan notices her artistic talent as well as her struggle with test taking.

Knowing her command of the subject matter but her slowness with reading, he simply gives her more time.  But Mr. Donovan's real surprise is to recommend Patricia for a special art program for younger students taught by Miss Chew, the head of the high school art department.  Tuesdays and Thursdays spent in the company of Miss Chew will change everything for this young woman.

Miss Chew breezed into the room that first day changing Patricia's name to Theresa, said with a Chinese accent.  Thin and tall Miss Chew began to teach her students the language of art.  Light, shadow, how the pressure of a pencil changes line, image size, position and patterns all figured in their sketches.

Carrying her sketchbook with her always Patricia even sketches a picture of Mr. Donovan's "da" from a photograph in the classroom.  By the next class she has twenty drawings to show Miss Chew who realizes Patricia sees negative spaces first.  Some weeks later the bubble of happiness bursts when Mr. Donovan's father dies, he leaves for Ireland and Mrs. Spaulding, a substitute teacher a-la "Viola Swamp" comes into the classroom.

No more extra time for test taking.  In Mrs. Spaulding's opinion the art classes are pure fluff; her goal is to end them for Patricia.  Determined to keep Patricia in her class, Miss Chew realizes when Patricia reads she sees letters as she does her art and  recommends her to a reading specialist friend.

For Patrica those people championing her cause rise to the top.  A meeting, a return and a special event open up a future of possibilities for Patrica.  The language of art became the language of her life; seeing as Miss Chew would have her see.

Told in an intimate conversational first person narrative, readers recall along with Patricia Polacco this defining year in her life.  We are acutely aware of the range of emotions felt by a younger Polacco through word choice and dialogue. 

I loved drawing.  Sometimes when I was drawing, I'd forget to breathe!  I danced on air all the way home that day.  I couldn't wait to tell my mother.

Beginning and closing endpapers picture a collage of sketches done in white and a rich, rusty, soft brown; the sepia tone alluding to the past.  Most of Polacco's luminous illustrations brimming with color and life span across two pages throughout this narrative.  Her technique of combining pencils and markers create sharp visuals giving us a realistic glimpse into her memories.

A particular style of  facial expressions and gestures by Polacco are what give her illustrations a distinction as being hers and hers alone.  Use of space gives the precise perception necessary. Readers are in the moment experiencing as did the persons pictured on her pages. 

The Art of Miss Chew written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco speaks to all the needs of all children; how each sees the world in their own incomparable manner.  How fortunate for Patricia Polacco that school year included Miss Chew.  How fortunate for we readers she choose to share this story with us. 

To see more illustrations from this title follow the link attached to Patricia Polacco's name above.

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