Firetalking by Patricia Polacco is the brief, but fascinating, autobiography of the beloved children’s book author and illustrator. The book is filled with color photographs by Lawrence Migdale, family stories and facts about Polacco's writing and daily life. Polacco packs a lot of interesting information in the book's 32 pages, Firetalking will appeal to independent readers ages 7 to 12.
In her dedication “To my family,” which includes a full-page color photograph of Patricia Polacco surrounded by eight family members, and throughout her autobiography, Polacco emphasizes the importance of her family in her life and in her stories. With a Russian background on her mother’s side of the family and an Irish background on her father’s, Polacco grew up in a family of storytellers.
Her Childhood and Education
Because her parents divorced when Polacco was quite young, she and her brother, Richard, lived with their mother in Oakland, California during the school year and spent summers with their father in Michigan. She describes how at home in California, the family enjoyed sitting around the fireplace listening to stories Polacco’s Ukrainian grandmother, who was quite a storyteller, called this “firetalking.”
Patricia Polacco describes the problems she had in school and how, despite knowing she was smart, feeling stupid at school, the result she later discovered of multiple undiagnosed learning disabilities.
Despite this, she persevered and ended up with a Ph.D. in Art History.
Inspiration for Her Books
As she tells the story of her life, Polacco talks about some of the life experiences that ended up in her children’s books. She mentions the family’s cherished keeping quilt and telling its story in The Keeping Quilt. She describe learning to make Pysanky eggs from her babushka (grandmother) and later sharing her love for them in her picture book Rechenks’s Eggs. Other books whose related experiences she describes are Mrs. Katz and Tush, Meteor and Chicken Sunday.
Her Writing and Illustrating Process
Patricia Polacco describes starting each day by rocking in her rocking chair and letting her imagination soar until “images and stories come with fury and energy.” But what makes her happiest is when she is creating her illustrations. “My heart sings whenever I am drawing.” Polacco describes how she begins each illustration in pencil, later adding color with a variety of media, including markers, acrylic paint and inks, among others. She often has family members and friends and neighbors pose for her.
By the end of the book, the reader has a good idea of Patricia Polacco’s life as a child, an adult and the author and illustrator of numerous popular children’s picture books.
I was especially glad to find this book because in the summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to hear Patricia Polacco speak about her life and her books and found her to be a vibrant, fascinating person. While Firetalking, her autobiography for children, was written in 1994, it still reflects the person she is today. Not only do I recommend the book for fans of Patricia Polacco in grades 2 to 6, I also recommend it for kids looking for an interesting person to write about for a book report. Firetalking is part of the Meet the Author series of autobiographies. (Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc., 1994. ISBN: 9781878450555) .
Because I borrowed a copy of Firetalking from the public library, I had to contact the publishing company for cover art. I just heard from them that a new edition of the book, titled Still Firetalking, will be out in 2014. When it comes out, I'll update this review. In the meantime, I encourage you to enjoy Firetalking at home and school.
More Recommended Authors and Illustrators
If you enjoy reading about picture book authors and illustrators and their work, I recommend the following articles: Artist Jerry Pinkney and His Children's Picture Books, The Magic of Ezra Jack Keats and The Artistry and Influence of Maurice Sendak. All are the creators of remarkable picture books and were honored with a Randolph Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration: Jerry Pinkney for The Lion and the Mouse, Ezra Jack Keats for The Snowy Day and Maurice Sendak for Where the Wild Things Are.