'Thank you, Mr. Falker' Editor's note: At first, Trisha loves school, but her difficulty in learning to read makes her feel dumb, until a teacher helps her understand - and overcome - her problem.

Story Time

October 25, 1998|By Patricia Polacco

Trisha was sure Mr. Falker believed that she could read. She had learned to memorize what the kid next to her was reading. Or she would wait for Mr. Falker to help her with a sentence, then she'd say the same thing that he did. "Good," he would say.

Then, one day, Mr. Falker asked her to stay after school and help wash the blackboards. He put on music and brought out little sandwiches as they worked and talked.

All at once he said, "Let's play a game! I'll shout out letters. You write them on the board with the wet sponge as quickly as you can."

"A," he shouted. She wiped a watery A.

"Eight," he shouted. She made a watery 8.

"Fourteen ... Three ... D ... M ... Q," he shouted out. He shouted out many, many letters and numbers. Then he walked up behind her, and together they looked at the board.

It was a watery mess. Trisha knew that none of the letters or numbers looked like they should. She threw the sponge down and tried to run.

But Mr. Falker caught her arm and sank to his knees in front of her. "You poor baby," he said. "You think you're dumb, don't you? How awful for you to be so lonely and afraid."

She sobbed.

"But, little one, don't you understand, you don't see the letters or numbers the way other people do. And you've gotten through school all this time, and fooled many, many good teachers!" He smiled at her. "That took cunning, and smartness, and such, such bravery."

Then he stood up and finished washing the board. "We're going to change all that, girl. You're going to read - I promise you that."

Now, almost every day after school, she met with Mr. Falker and Miss Plessy, a reading teacher. They did a lot of things she didn't even understand! At first she made circles in sand, and then big sponge circles on the blackboard, going from left to right, left to right.

Another day they flicked letters on a screen, and Trisha shouted them out loud. Still other days she worked with wooden blocks and built words. Letters, letters, letters. Words, words, words. Always sounding them out. And that felt good.

But, though she'd read words, she hadn't read a whole sentence. And deep down she still felt dumb.

And then one spring day - had it been three months or four months since they had started? - Mr. Falker put a book in front of her. She'd never seen it before. He picked a paragraph in the middle of a page and pointed at it.

Almost as if it were magic, or as if light poured into her brain, the words and sentences started to take shape on the page as they never had before. "She ... marched ... them ... off ... to ..." Slowly, she read a sentence. Then another, and another. And finally she'd read a paragraph. And she understood the whole thing.

She didn't notice that Mr. Falker and Miss Plessy had tears in their eyes.

The rest of the year became an odyssey of discovery and adventure for the little girl. She learned to love school. I know because that little girl was me, Patricia Polacco.

I saw Mr. Falker again some thirty years later at a wedding. I walked up to him and introduced myself. At first he had difficulty placing me. Then I told him who I was, and how he had changed my life so many years ago.

He hugged me and asked me what I did for a living. "Why, Mr. Falker," I answered. "I make books for children ... Thank you, Mr. Falker. Thank You."

From THANK YOU, MR. FALKER by Patricia Polacco. Text and illustrations copyright 1998 by Patricia Polacco. Reprinted by permission of Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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