Bob Seeney On Books

An A from Miss Keller

July, 2018

In this issue of 2e Newsletter, we recognize and honor individuals whose voices have been heard in many ways on behalf of 2e kids. Not the least of these are authors and illustrators who have shared their creativity and artistry and who are themselves twice exceptional. First among these, in my book, is Patricia Polacco. In this column, we have visited her works several times:

In over 60 books, many of which are award winners, Polacco has visited nearly every imaginable theme. In her forthcoming book, Holes in the Sky (2018, Putnam & Sons), she deals with the loss of a beloved grandmother. A past book that I was recently reminded of is one that I’ve been saving to review, An A From Miss Keller (2015, Putnam & Sons). This autobiographical book tells the story of how Patricia Polacco was inspired to become the writer and storyteller she is today and celebrates the importance teachers play in the lives of their students.

In the story, Trisha is selected to be in Miss Keller’s special writing class. Privately, the girl is pleased, but at the same time apprehensive. Miss Keller’s reputation has earned her the nickname “Killer Keller,” a name that even her colleagues use. As school begins, Trisha’s apprehension grows, as we see in this excerpt:

On the first day of class, Miss Keller slithered into the room, and strutting up and down the aisles, snarled, ‘I am going to transform each and every one of you into crackerjack writers! One enormous miracle, right?’…Some of you may not make it through the term!’ I felt as if she were looking right at me. 

It’s not only the words that matter here. The illustrations are important, too. As the relationship between Trisha and Miss Keller grows, the depiction of the teacher changes. From the initial illustration of Miss Keller as a “bird of prey,” we see her transformation into a softer and warmer Miss Keller. 

The teacher pushes Trisha to her best writing, but that’s still not enough to please Miss Keller. “You have the words, Patricia,” she says. “You have to give them wings!”

Then comes the dreaded term essay assignment when Trisha must write a personal narrative, and nothing comes to mind. Without warning, her beloved next-door neighbor, Pop, dies of a heart attack; and Trisha is heartbroken. She writes, and writes, and writes, no longer caring what grade she earns. The result is an essay that Miss Keller returns marked with an A and the words: “…you’ve given your words wings!” 

Polacco has not written a beautiful story of how she was inspired to become an author, she has given us a warm story of her relationship with Pop. And if anyone is looking for a good guide for teaching writing, just look at Miss Keller’s strategies! We certainly cannot ignore that once again, through another tribute to a wonderful teacher, this author makes a significant statement of how important teachers are.

Teachers are certainly in the group that is the focus of this issue of 2e Newsletter, voices for 2e. Teachers’ voices are heard in their advocacy for twice-exceptional students; their seemingly unlimited energy in teaching 2e students; their search for strategies and methods to help their students; and, perhaps most importantly, their heart and dedication to 2e students. Patricia Polacco says it very well on the book jacket:

Think about it! Children spend more time with teachers growing up than almost anyone in their lives. If anyone opens the world up to children, it is teachers. No wonder we love them a lifetime and are so thankful they are in our lives, bringing us to who we really are.

With this said, I can’t end without saying my personal “Thank You” to Miss Maureen Tunnel, my high school English teacher for three years at Rogersville High School in Missouri. She made me alive to words and to the wonderful combinations of words that make great literature. She helped me make my own words fly. Thank you.

Bob Seney

Happy Reading!

Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. He has been 2e Newsletter's children's book columnist since 2007. Reach him at bseney@muw.edu.

Return to top