The Great American Road Trip
Destination: Michigan, with Kids
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
and Weird Michigan by Linda S. Godfrey
A GUEST POST By Kristen J. Gough
My youngest insists on nightly story time. My older two girls somehow outgrew this ritual about the time they entered 1st grade—they wanted to read on their own, “No helping, mom!” But not my youngest. She’s content snuggling up next to me and listening each night. No complaints here.
But tonight something interesting happened. As I started to read Patricia Polacco’s Thank you, Mr. Falker, my older two girls wandered in, taking places at either end of the bed; they didn’t even ask to look at the pictures. That’s too bad because Polacco both writes and illustrates her stories, so she knows how to portray the title character, Trisha’s, loneliness as she moves across the country, from Michigan to California, in third grade. The words are almost secondary to her close-up images of Trisha’s face, lined with frustration. Almost.
In the story, Polacco tells of a family’s love of learning, reading. Trisha’s grandfather has her lick honey he’s pooled on a book, explaining, “Knowledge is like the bee that made that sweet honey, you have to chase it through the pages of a book!”
But Trisha finds reading eludes her—the letters turn fuzzy and upside down as she concentrates. And when she moves her new classmates quickly pick up on her difficulty and make fun of her—until a new teacher arrives at the school, Mr. Falker. You can guess what happens, Mr. Falker discovers Trisha’s dyslexia, which she has been covering by memorizing texts, and impressing her classmates with her drawings. Yet the story never feels predictable. Even when you begin to guess that Trisha is really Polacco. Mr. Falker was a real-life Mr. Felker, who chanced to meet Polacco years later. When he asked about what she did, her answer, “Why, Mr. Felker, I make books for children…Thank you, Mr. Felker. Thank you.” I had to drop my voice an octave to get through the last part without breaking up.
My children were rapt. We left Michigan too soon and like Trisha, they had a tough time adjusting to new schools. Many of Polacco’s stories draw from childhood experiences growing up on a farm in Union City, Michigan.
For a less nostalgic look at the state, dive into the strange sites and tales listed in Weird Michigan. While reading, I found myself repeating over and over again, “We’ve got to go see this.” Who knew that Michigan has had numerous legendary Dog Man sightings? Bigfoot beware. Curious about how Hell, Michigan, got it’s name? It’s in there. Houdini? He met his death in Detroit. One- to two-page tidbits reveal everything you wanted to know—and everything you didn’t know you wanted to know—about the state. Perfect to read in the car with your kids as you’re venturing across the state (just skip the chapters on Haunted Michigan and The Cemetery Safari).
Living with her crew of three explorers (aka daughters), Kristen J. Gough is always up for an adventure. Usually it involves something in the kitchen. You can read more about her family’s forays in food at MyKidsEatSquid.com. She has also written for a variety of publications including Parenting, Parents, KIWI, Relish, MetroParent, Big Apple Parent, BabyZone.com and others.
The illustration is taken from Ms. Polloco’s Web Site (clicking on the picture will take you there. The other photos are the property of Kristen Gough–all rights reserved.
Thanks Kristen, for sharing your families experiences and these cool books on Michigan. We’ve talked about Michigan here at A Traveler’s Library with Hemingway, a mystery writer, the Great Lakes, the Sunset Coast, and Hiawatha. And BE SURE to check out music for Michigan at Music Road, where Kerry Dexter provides a sound track for the Road Trip each week.
Have you found a good book to introduce a state to children? Tell us about it. And if you like Kristen’s great children’s book finds, please click on one of the sharing options below and tell Stumble Upon or your Twitter Friends to take a look. Remember your comments here get you an entry in the Bella Italia Giveaway.