Patricia Polacco is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is warm, full of meaning, with hints of humor. The Junkyard Wonders is a memoir about her school days. Her book is a tribute to the inspiring teacher in all of us.
Mrs. Peterson began her school year with a note of expectation that all her students would acquire. With a dictionary in her hand, she read the definition of genius to the class of special children.
“Genius is neither learned nor acquired.
It is risking without fear of failure.
It is creativity without constraints.
It is … extraordinary intelligence!”
Your heart will sail as she tells her students to memorize it, to look at it every day. “The definition describes every one of you.”
Patricia was placed in a special class. The class had been dubbed “The Junkyard.” Mrs. Peterson believed in her students’ potentials despite their challenges. For learning, she placed the class into tribes. The tribes worked on projects together throughout the year. The five kids in Patricia’s group became very close.
Due to bullying and wanting her kids to see themselves as more than just the left-overs, Mrs. Peterson took the children to the junkyard. They were to create a new invention from the junk they collected. Patricia’s group created a plane that could fly. They decided to launch it at the science fair.
One boy, Jody, had a disease that caused his body to grow too fast. That spring, Jody’s heart gave out and he died. (Yes, I cried. Patricia knows how to pull at my heart-strings.) The plane was a tribute for Jody. The closeness, hard work, and genius propelled their plane into the sky.
I love the ending. Patricia Polacco has an epilogue about her tribe. The other three children grew and flourished into amazing positions – ballet school director, world renown fashion designer, NASA engineer, and Patricia became a phenomenal children’s author. They attributed their success to their teacher, Mrs. Peterson.
Savorings for reading and in writing for The Junkyard Wonders:
- Believing in yourself – overcoming hardship
- Community – accepting and seeing possibility in everyone
- Transitions – highlighting main events throughout the year
- Character description
- Strong emotional sense