Written by Patricia Polacco
Ages 7-9, 10-12
In this story a little girl grows up with huge excitement about learning to read. Trisha’s wonderful grandfather takes a book and pours honey over it, telling her that knowledge is sweet, but to get to the sweetness, she has to read through the book. When she gets to grade 1 she is puzzled that the other children move on to other readers while she stays stuck on the beginning reader. It gets worse – by the time she is in Grade 3 she is pretending to read, and feeling desperate that she can’t. The letters seem to wriggle and refuse to form words she can read. She battles to make columns of numbers in maths. She is very good at drawing but everything else is a challenge for her and she starts to believe she is dumb.
On her grandparents farm in Michigan she feels safe and loved but the refuge doesn’t last, when her grandparents die, her family move to a new city. Trish hopes she can make a fresh start but things get worse and she is bullied and called names like dumbo. She begins to hate school and pretends she has a sore throat or a stomach ache so she can stay at home. Her desperation and suffering are palpable and the realistic illustrations bring home her deep unhappiness. You’ll find it hard not to cry when reading this section!
Finally the arrival of a wonderfully inspiring new teacher in Grade 5 literally changes her life. Mr Falker turns on all the children bullying and teasing her and says “Stop – are all of you so perfect that you can look at another person and find fault with her?” With his help she begins to work on her reading and writing. He tells her: ‘”But, little one, don’t you understand, you don’t see letters or numbers the way other people do. And you’ve gotten through school all this time, and fooled many, many good teachers!” In time she finds she can read and she never looks back. It’s heartbreaking to think how many children in the past suffered through misunderstood dyslexia and were labelled dumb or stupid.
I love the twist in the tale at the end. This is a good book to read to a child who is feeling different and ostracized because of learning difficulties. Inspiring and moving – it touches on so many big issues: bullying, death, school, learning difficulties, dyslexia, self esteem, and family. It is a bit dated – with references to old fashioned cars and illustrations showing old fashioned clothes – and in today’s age teachers would pick up Trish’s problem much earlier – but the story’s lessons are timeless and inspiring.
The online e-book is beautifully read by actress Jane Kaczmarek on Storyline Online here.