There are now a half-dozen stories by Polacco about teachers who made a difference for her as she grew up. This one is about “Killer Keller,” who never gave an A to anyone and whose students did not always last out the semester.
Young Patricia is honored to be chosen for Miss Keller’s writing class, but she is also intimidated by the teacher’s booming, Southern-accented voice and imperious manner. Young would-be writers will be awed, as Patricia was, by Miss Keller’s regal bearing, red lipstick, long red fingernails, and by her uncompromising approach. For her first homework assignment for Miss Keller, Patricia writes an essay, pouring out three pages of affectionate details about her family and home. She is stung to have her “masterpiece” dismissed due to a surfeit of “love”s. Patricia’s next-door neighbor, Pop, a retired baker, comforts her at the end of the day and tells her a story of Killer Keller, Pop’s thesaurus, and one of Pop’s own sons. How Patricia eventually earns that A is as heart-tugging as all of Polacco’s family-based tales; it is sentimental to be sure, but it is brought to life by the author’s pencil-and-marker illustrations, featuring her characteristically exaggerated and expressive line and color. Patricia’s dejection and subsequent triumph come through loud and clear.
Equally sound as inspiration and writing advice, this tale fits neatly in Polacco’s oeuvre. (Picture book. 6-12)