There are precious few authors who can publish prolifically over
a period of decades and still make each book something special.
Patricia Polacco is one of the few with that special combination of
creative spark and consistancy. The Junkyard Wonders is yet another
shining star in her literary constellation.
Trisha wants to spend the school year with her father and
grandmother in Michigan. In California where her mother lives the
other kids know she was a late reader. She's tired of being special.
She just wants to be a regular kid in a regular class.
In her new school, however, it seems like nothing's changed.
Two girls give her strange looks when she shows them her class card.
Her new classmates seem different. And her teacher welcomes her
students to the Junkyard. It's the catch all class for students with
Early on in her class the students are sorted into tribes.
Tricia's fellow tribe members become her best friends. Their
individual strengths give each an important, distinct role in their
Mrs. Peterson, the teacher, gives her students ways to shine.
This is lost on the "normal" kids who consider them weirdos and
retards. After one especially abusive playground encounter that
leaves Tricia and her friends feeling like throwaways and junk, Mrs.
Peterson takes her class to see what a junkyard really is: "...a place
of wondrous possibilities."
Mrs. Peterson instructs her class to form into their tribes and
look through the junkyard for anything that can be transformed into
something else. Toward the end of the field trip a boy in Trisha's
group sees a wrecked model airplane and decides that they can turn it
into something wonderful, something that can fly all the way to the
moon. Does this happen? You'll just have to read the book to find out.
It comes as no surprise that the book comes right out of
Polacco's childhood. She did indeed get diagnosed with dyslexia and
yearn to be, "a regular kid in a regular class.". She did learn in
real life Mrs. Peterson's class that "normal" was not all it was
cracked up to be. She and the other junkyard kids in her clan went on
to careers far more astounding than probably those of the regular kids
who looked down on them.
There is one paragraph in the book that holds a message we all
need to hear these days.
"But every day Mrs. Peterson reminded us, 'Some people look at
things the way they are and cry, "Why?". But I want you to look at
things and see what they could be and cry, "Why not?"'"
There is plenty to make people cry "Why?" in today's world:
climate change, economic inequality, tens of thousands of Americans
dying of curable diseases every year for lack of health insurance,
factory food production...or, in my school board vice chairperson
case, drastically dwindling funds for public education. Why won't get
us all that far though. We need to liberate at least part of our
brains to the why not mindset. Granted it comes more easily to
dreamers like me. But if the majority of us could move in that
direction just a smidge...therein could lie our salvation.
I'm sure Patricia Polacco would be with me on this.
On a personal note, I had the most wonderful time last Saturday
decorating the Orono Library lawn with snow angels and a dear little
A great big shout out goes out to all the beautiful people in our
world working from a why not mindset and all those with open minds who
have the potential to join them.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod