Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Junkyard Wonders

The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco is somewhat of a love letter to a truly special teacher, Mrs. Peterson (Mary Lee recently added her to A Year of Reading's list of "Cool Teachers in Children's Literature").

This is a story based on a real event from Polacco's life which makes it all the more effective. Young Trisha had just moved to Michigan to spend a year with her grandmother and her father, and would go to school there, as well. She had some difficulty with reading at her old school, and she was looking forward to a fresh start in Michigan where no one would know she was "dumb". However, on the first day at her new school, Trisha was sent to room 206, otherwise known as The Junkyard.

Every student in The Junkyard was different and unique in some way, and Mrs. Peterson was their amazing teacher. When the students complained about the name of their class, Mrs. Peterson took them on a trip to an actual junkyard to find the beauty in what an object could be. They salvaged some great finds that day, and took them back to their classroom where Mrs. Peterson then challenged them to look at their objects and not ask, "why?", but rather to ask "why not?"

The learning that took place as they came together as a classroom community and incorporated each of their unique gifts into a large class project was amazing. When one of the community members dies because of his unique disease, the group finds it even more important to finish the project that began with him.

The Junkyard Wonders brought to focus again how important it is that we all work together to meet the needs of ALL our students each and every day. And by all, I mean the principal, the teachers, the intervention staff, the support staff, the parents, and the students. The wonder, support, and faith that Mrs. Peterson instilled in her "junkyard wonders" is the gift we all need to give children.

One of my favorite parts of The Junkyard Wonders is the very last page. It is on this page we find out what has happened to some of the students from room 206 -- artistic director of the American Ballet Company in NYC, textile designed who was invited to Paris to work in the fashion industry, an aeronautical engineer for NASA who helped design lunar modules for the Apollo missions, and a prolific writer of wonderful picture books for children. A huge thank you to Mrs. Peterson for seeing all their potential so long ago!


  1. I read this book this morning, and now I'm mulling over how and with whom to share it. We've worked so hard to get rid of the negative labels. All the students in special education classes here are mainstreamed with their grade level for library. I can't see myself reading this to my classes. Maybe I'll share it with our amazing LH teacher, who so resembles Mrs. Peterson in her fierce belief in her students, and get her input. Just thinking out loud here, and I'd appreciate any input!

  2. Hi Mary,
    I couldn't agree with you more about how hard it has been to conquer those negative labels. But, I do think this book is a great testament to the power of a good teacher to help us believe in ourselves. That this is based on Polacco's life made it even more effective for me. I'm not sure how I'd use it with kids, however it might be a great conversation starter about the gifts we all have.

  3. dedoThis book is so inspiring to give students hope. Trish discovered that they were all unique and how to work together -created wonders. Mrs. Peterson,extraordinary teacher, who inspires her students to be creative, imaginative, to believe.