The Art Of Miss Chew

Describes how a teacher named Miss Chew encouraged individuality, and accepted learning differences, and helped a young student with academic difficulties get extra time to take tests and permission to be in advanced art classes. Inspired by the author’s memories of her art teacher.

One thought on “The Art Of Miss Chew

  1. Mathis & Moreillon says:

    As the new school year gets underway, Janelle and I were wondering about how classroom teachers are portrayed in children’s picture books, chapter books, and novels. This month in My Take/Your Take, we will respond to books in which teachers play a major role. Although the child and youth protagonists in these titles show agency in solving their own problems, these young people are aided by adults serving in the role of advocates, guides, and mentors—in short, teachers. With so much unfavorable publicity in the media about educators, our inquiry was one way to have a sense of the messages children and youth are receiving through their literature. (We narrowed our focus to books published in the last three years.)
    Perhaps author-illustrator Patricia Polacco’s most famous “teacher” book is Thank You, Mr. Falker (Philomel, 1998). In that book, Polacco shares a fictionalized autobiographical account of a teacher who helped her understand late in her elementary school career that she was dyslexic and needed support for learning to read.
    Judi’s Take
    In The Art of Miss Chew, Polacco continues her semi-autobiographical educational journey. Trisha is striving to be a proficient reader in middle school. Her teacher Mr. Donovan recognizes that she reads more slowly than other students in the class, gives her more time to complete tests, and connects her to the high school art teacher, Miss Chew. (Mr. Donovan recognizes that the weekly 30-minute “art on the cart” art experiences will not meet Trisha’s needs as a budding and talented artist.) Miss Chew nurtures Trisha’s artistic development and also becomes an advocate for her need for extra support in reading.
    Readers will connect with Trisha’s struggles and they will recognize the power teachers wield. Polacco reinforces this message by interjecting a stereotypical gray-haired, insensitive substitute teacher who never smiles. Mrs. Spaulding seems to be determined to derail Trisha’s progress, but fortunately, Miss Chew comes to the rescue. The story suggests that without these adult advocates, Miss Chew and Mr. Donovan, Trisha/Polacco may not have survived school or developed her talent as an artist.
    Polacco’s ability to capture emotions on her characters’ faces and in the angles of their bodies is one of her most notable skills as an artist. Two very powerful illustrations stayed with me after I closed this book. One was of Trisha hugging Mr. Donovan who has just returned to the class after an absence. This caring teacher kneels down on the floor to meet Trisha at her level and returns her affection wholly. The other is after Miss Chew presents Trisha with the gift of one of her own artist’s smocks. The two are depicted in a gentle embrace with tender expressions on the faces. As a reader/viewer, I hope that there are many, many teachers such as these two who are unafraid to express deep caring with a well-timed hug.
    The book jacket includes a letter to the reader in which Polacco not only thanks Miss Chew for her role in teaching young Trisha to “perceive, evaluate, and appreciate the beauty of art,” but also makes a political statement about defunding of the arts in many public schools. I made a personal connection to a gifted art teacher with whom I taught and collaborated at a Tucson elementary school. The students and teachers alike benefited from working with a talented art teacher who had an aesthetic that influenced the curriculum and graced the halls and walls with stunning children’s artwork at Gale Elementary. I appreciate that Polacco takes this opportunity to let readers know—youth and adults alike—where she stands on this issue of arts education. Could anyone develop their artistic talents under the tutelage of Miss Chew? I believe young readers will believe they could.
    Janelle’s Take
    Teachers in The Art of Miss Chew reflect various paradigms of beliefs about teaching. Miss Chew is the teacher who is aware that there are other ways of “knowing” and that our visual perceptions/visual literacy informs not only our intake of visual images but cognition as well. Aware that our aesthetic insights are aligned with our cognitive understandings and that the two work together for comprehension of all types of information, Miss Chew is highly intelligent. Her insights here speak to what brain research is now able to prove with brain imaging although insightful teachers have known this all along.
    Mr. Donovan is the teacher who creates community by being part of the community—who shares with the students his own family, emotions, and life realities. In turn, he is able to use his personal interests and concerns for students to create learning contexts that help them succeed. He has time and isn’t afraid to be involved and stand up for his students.
    The substitute teacher is a stereotypical teacher who sees learning as the practicing of skills in a timely manner. While we hope such teachers are only in books, we know there are a number of personality traits that are not learner centered in their approaches to teaching. I see Mrs. Spaulding as representative of these various types of teachers. While she is picture in this book as being older, I don’t think age is necessarily a factor in such teachers. Much has to do with their own learning experiences and many adults can attest to excellent teachers growing up who, while they practiced a more skills oriented approach to teaching, they did show compassion for learners. This is evident in the fact that Polacco is telling her own story and she was a child many decades ago—yet there were teachers such as Mr. Donovan and Miss Chew who impacted her life. I am made to think of the teacher in Crow Boy which was written in the early 1950’s but told about a child the author remembered from his own childhood, making this story’s setting in Japan around the 1920’s. Such a compassionate teacher existed even then.

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