Author Study Toolkit

Patricia Polacco: Overview, Timeline, and Author Resources

We've developed a sample author study using the popular author and illustrator, Patricia Polacco, as the model. Here, we provide an overview of what the author study will look like, what you'll need to do to prepare the class for the study, suggested books to read, ideas for presenting the culminating projects, a timeline, research resources, and more. (Note: Some of these ideas are drawn from The Author Studies Handbook by Laura Kotch and Leslie Zackman)

Author: Patricia Polacco


The interest and importance of family stories.

Focus books

  • My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
  • My Ol’ Man
  • The Butterfly
  • Pink and Say
  • Thank You, Mr. Falker

Students will be encouraged to read other Polacco books on their own during silent reading time.

Type of author study

A classroom project, with students doing individual responses to any of the five focus books as a final project.

Before starting the author study

  • Gather copies of Patricia Polacco books from the media center, local library, or bookstore. Having multiple copies of the books, especially the five focus books, will make things easier.
  • Provide each student with a notebook to keep track of thoughts on Polacco and her books.
  • Collaborate with the media specialist to plan at least one media center visit focused on doing research on Polacco’s life and work.
  • Check with the art teacher (if there is one) to see if she would devote a session or two to Polacco’s artwork. Students can illustrate a favorite scene from a Polacco book, using similar art materials and a similar style.
  • Create an author study center. On a display board or poster board, place a photo of Patricia Polacco. Put copies of her books in bins or baskets so students have easy access to them. You might also hang a clothes line to one side of the author study center; you can clip wall charts and other classroom-generated information about Polacco and her books onto the clothes line as the study continues.
  • Write and send home a letter to parents telling them about the author study, why it’s important, and how parents can help to make it successful. (See sample letter)
  • Gather materials for students to create "Book in a Bag Kits" so students can take home Polacco’s books to share with their families. You can use large recloseable plastic bags and ask students to design their own special name labels.

Patricia Polacco books

Reading and responding to Polacco's books

Let your students know that the class will be doing an author study on Patricia Polacco, who is known for using her family stories to create memorable children’s books. Provide students with an overview of the study, including the timeline and the activities.

Then give students a brief introduction to Polacco — not too much biography, as the class will be researching this later — before beginning to read (over several days) the five focus books to the class.

Have students discuss and respond to each of these five books as a class, keeping track of their responses on a wall chart/poster (one for each book). Ask students to complete specific homework assignments focused on their own responses to each of the five books.

After reading aloud each of the five books to the class, ask students what clues Polacco has offered about herself and her family. Keep a wall chart of these clues.

Give students time during the day to read other Polacco books based on her family stories as a way to broaden their knowledge of the author and her work.

Research on Polacco's life and books

After all five books have been read, students can visit the media center to do research on Polacco’s life and books, guided by the media specialist. This could take one or two sessions in the media center. At the end, students will be asked to write a brief biography of Polacco, highlighting what parts of her life most interest and inspire them.

Patricia Polacco research

Art exploration

Students can also work with the art teacher to study Polacco’s illustration style in more depth. Students can then choose a favorite scene from one of the classroom read-aloud books and illustrate it, trying to use a style similar to Polacco's. (Note: If there is no art teacher, the classroom teacher should adjust the author study timeline to include time for a session or two on Polacco’s artwork, and give students a homework assignment to create a Polacco-inspired illustration).

Patricia Polacco art

Final projects

Each student will create a final project responding to one of the five focus books. Much of the work on this project can be either done in the classroom or at home, depending on time and the teacher’s preference. In the concluding days of the author study, students will present their projects to the class. If there’s interest and time, students can also present their projects to other classes and hold an Author Study Fair night for parents and other interested adults.

Patricia Polacco final projects

Suggested timeline

(Note: Media Center visits, focused on Polacco research, should be scheduled for the first two weeks. Sessions with the art teacher should also be scheduled during that time).

  1. Introduce the author study, Polacco, and picture books for older readers.
  2. Read My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother.
  3. Oversee student activities focused on My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother.
  4. Read My Ol’ Man.
  5. Oversee student activities focused on My Ol’ Man.
  6. Introduce WW2 (briefly) so students have a sense of perspective about The Butterfly.
  7. Read The Butterfly.
  8. Oversee student activities focused on The Butterfly.
  9. Introduce the U.S. Civil War (briefly) so students have a sense of perspective about Pink and Say.
  10. Read Pink and Say.
  11. Oversee student activities focused on Pink and Say.
  12. Read Thank You, Mr. Falker.
  13. Oversee student activities focused on Thank You, Mr. Falker.
  14. Discuss Patricia Polacco’s life and work, connecting what students have learned about her from her books and their own research.
  15. Provide classroom time for work on final projects.
  16. Oversee more work on final projects.
  17. Begin presentation of final projects.
  18. Finish presentation of final projects.

We Are Storytellers promo


Space Rangers

Start with a Book: Read. Talk. Explore.

Sign up for our free newsletters about reading

Our Literacy Blogs

"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader." — Margaret Fuller