FREMONT — The third time was the charm in getting children’s book author Patricia Polacco to come speak to students at Fremont Elementary School.
And she didn’t disappoint.
Polacco of Union City, Michigan, spoke Monday morning to students, a rescheduled appearance when two last year had to be canceled; one for weather, one for illness.
Second grade teacher Mary Sacquitne introduced Polacco, saying she is her favorite author and illustrator.
Monday, Polacco said she was so glad to finally make it to Fremont to speak with the students.
Learning disabled as a student herself, Polacco didn’t read until she was in her early teens. She didn’t begin her writing career until she was 41.
“When you look at me, you see a successful author,” Polacco said, introducing herself. “But you’re also looking at a learning disabled student who grew up.”
“I couldn’t read until I was 14,” she said. “I couldn’t do math, either, and there I still struggle.”
She was told she has dyslexia. A teacher helped figure out that she couldn’t read. She said if she were a student in today’s school systems, she’d be in classes designed to help those with learning disabilities.
Reading in class was especially difficult. Students had to take the book and walk to the front of the room to read in front of their peers.
“It was like going into a firing squad,” Polacco said. “Students teased me and it got to the point I hated school.”
Polacco said she wasn’t the only one in her high school class at Oakland Technical High School in California to be bullied and later become a success.
“In school, I was friends with a boy named Frank Oznowics,” Polacco said. “He was teased, too.”
He was teased, she said, because his voice never really lowered. Instead of speaking in class, he had a paper bag puppet that spoke for him.
Now known as Frank Oz, he pursued puppeteering after school, performing as numerous Muppets characters along with Jim Hensen. He is also the puppeteer and voice behind Jedi Master Yoda in the Star Wars series.
Polacco used these personal accounts to solidify to students that teasing and bullying is never the answer.
Her own bullying experiences made her hate school. It’s not something she wants for other students.
At age 75 now, Polacco has been writing and illustrating children’s books for 35 years.
“For me, art is like breathing,” she said.
Her mother’s family is from Russia and Ukraine while her father’s family is from Ireland, all of which are lands of storytellers.
“My whole life I have been used to sitting and listening to stories,” she said. “There was no television in our house and instead every evening we heard amazing stories.”
The first story she remembers hearing from her grandmother is the theme of the first book she later wrote called “Meteor.”
“This is a true story that actually happened,” she said.
The story is about a falling star that came crashing down on her grandparents farm while her mother was young.
At first, people coming to see the meteor were afraid to touch it. But, once one person was willing, it became known as a wishing meteor.
Her grandfather came up with a test before allowing people to make a wish upon the meteor.
“If they looked disappointed after he told his rules, he knew they were too selfish and turned them away,” she said.
His rules were simple:
• You may not wish for money
• You may not change other people with your wish.
• You may not wish for toys, gadgets, collections or things that are purchased with money.
Polacco brought a piece of the meteor, which now lays at her grandmother’s grave in a Union City cemetery, with her for students to wish on, making sure they know the rules.
“Think carefully about what you will do to change the world,” she said before sending students on to make a wish.
She also brought a very special quilt with her.
Though the original keeping quilt is in a museum in Ohio, Polacco has a replica her children helped get made 20 or so years ago.
One of her stories, “The Keeping Quilt,” is about how her family on her mother’s side came to the United States.
The original quilt was made of clothing worn by the family, including a dress her great grandmother had worn as a young girl, and over the years was passed down. Its uses included as a table cloth, a wedding canopy and blanket to carry newborn babies of the family into the world.
The one Polacco carries with her to events has a piece of the original incorporated and has caught her grandbabies as they are born.
Her talk Monday morning had funds donated by the Fremont American Legion, Fremont Public Library, a Walmart grant, the Fremont Community Fund, Tri-Kappa Sorority, Psi Iota Xi Sorority, the Fremont Moose Lodge and Walt and Shayne Tresenriter.