The Art of Miss Chew
Author: Patricia Polacco
Reviewed: by Fran Lewis
Educators have great impacts on their students some positive and some negative. Learning how to work with students of different academic abilities requires understanding, kindness, knowledge and work. There are many educators that have difficulty working with students whose grades are not up to their standards and there are some that realize a special quality in their students and teach them how excel. The world of art is special and the language of Art, which is the central theme of this outstanding book, is not something that everyone understands or can learn. Not every student can handle taking tests as we learn when we meet our author, Patricia at the beginning of the school year as she enters Mr. Donovan’s class. Mr. Donovan’s flare for teaching and recognizing student’s shortcomings and helping them overcome them is what made him a first rate teacher. As a student our author worked hard but when she had to take a test she could not handle the time constraints and often failed. The subject matter was not foreign to her but she needed more time to be able to focus on the print and complete all of the questions. Mr. Donovan realized this and allowed her to have more time and her grades improved. But, Mr. Donovan saw more in Patricia than even she did. Drawing was something she loved. You might say it was her passion. Looking at her drawings one day he put them up on his bulletin board for everyone to see. The best part is her classmates rallied around and agreed with him. So, proud of herself she could not wait to tell everyone at home. But, here is where our story really begins. The insight of one teacher and the dedication to making a real difference in a child’s life is why her life changed.
Mr. Donovan told her about a special woman named Miss Chew. Miss Chew was the head of the high school art department and ran a special program for young artists. So very talented and definitely excited about being given this special chance, she could not wait for the first day of class to begin and was thrilled that her mother agreed. Enter Miss Chew whose colorful smock and appearance not only brighten a room but whose smile could light up a cloudy sky. But, Miss Chew could not pronounce her name and she was forever called Theresa. From day one as you can see from the amazing illustrations that the author has drawn and the detail and colors in each picture, you can feel the excitement, see the determination and feel the energy that the author of Miss Chew in each picture. “ The language of art.” As she relates to the author and the reader is not spoken it is the “language of emotions and images.” Patricia soared in her class and when asked to create drawings Miss Chew explained to her students first you see and then draw as you watch the lines go from dark to light. Her drawings were detailed, filled with emotion and definitely done from within her heart and soul. But, sometimes not every educator is a champion of the young.
As Miss Chew helps Patricia/Theresa capture the true understanding of negative space which you will have to learn for yourself in order to excel in the language of art yourself, someone else decides to try and tear down all the positive work that she and Mr. Donovan have done. When her teacher has to take a leave for personal reasons, another comes in and has not idea of the negative impact she is making on our author and young artist. The dialogue in this book explains in definite detail and quite clearly as you hear the voice of the substitute teacher explain to her that art classes are a waits and she needs to try and pass her tests. Even explaining how she receives extra time from Mr. Donovan it does not soften the hard heart of Mrs. Spaulding. When Patricia relates the incident and what happened to Miss Chew wait and see what happens and why this woman was more than just a teacher to her. Some children have reading difficulties and as a reading specialist I understand negative space and that some students have difficulty seeing word patterns and being able to group letters together to make words and blend them into sentences. Just what the reading specialist tells not only Miss Chew but her mother, the principal and Mrs. Spaulding is quite enlightening. Just what Mrs. Spaulding says and does leads the school to make a strong decision about her.
Mr. Donovan returns and things change as Patricia now passes her tests. But, the real surprise would come later as Miss Chew had a special present and something else she had planned for her. Just what happens and what she does to let our author know she is special and talented you have to read for yourself. The pictures in this book are colorful, full of many different color palettes and you can feel the warmth, the pride and the love in each one. Miss Chew comes to life in each drawing and the smile in the author’s face is infectious. So, what is this special surprise and can you learn what it is. First you have to see it. Then Read it! You don’t think I am going to tell you what happens and ruin the surprise for you.
Once again author Patricia Polacco brings to light so many important issues that students today face not just when she was growing up. Teachers can really make a difference in the lives of their students but some like Mrs. Spaulding are too rigid and cannot see past the red pencil point in their hand. The sad part is that not every student is like Patricia and some are greatly affected and often retreat and are afraid to speak out. Teachers like Mr. Donovan are special and rare and the fact that he took the time to help her along with Miss Chew lets the reader know that not all educators are like Mrs. Spaulding. I am a reading and writing specialist and worked with students with reading difficulties. You need patience, understanding, knowledge of their problems and how to work with them but most of all you need to see the beauty of reading and have a love for teaching.
Fran Lewis: reviewer
Let’s give this book: FIVE COLORFUL STARS