Art is a language, and the right teacher can change a life is the twin message of this personal story from the exuberant author/illustrator.
Polacco provides an unabashedly autobiographical account of a year in grammar school with the Irish Mr. Donovan, who understands that she needs additional time to work at written tests. He also introduces her to Miss Chew, an art teacher, and both immediately recognize Trisha's emerging talent—although the Chinese Miss Chew hears her name as “Ther-esa” and calls her that ever after. It is Miss Chew who discerns Trisha's talent at perceiving negative space and connects it to her difficulties in school: She sees words as patterns, not letters. When Mr. Donovan is called to Ireland upon the death of his father, the substitute will not allow Trisha extra time on exams and tries to keep her from art class. Right prevails—and Trisha gets to have a painting in the high-school art fair, even though she is so young. Polacco's pencil-and-marker art is full of color and movement, with its exaggerated figures and vibrant line. Her characters are always gesturing, caught in mid-sentence. Her first-person narration tells her tragedy and triumph in a very down-to-earth way, using the tone of the 11-year-old she was.
The paired lessons—of art as a crucial element in education and of the importance of recognizing different learning styles—come through clearly, leavened by Polacco's use of color and gesture. (Picture book. 6-10)