Sticks and Stones
Written and Illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Simon & Schuster, 2020, 46 pp
Patricia Polacco’s illustrations magnificently tell the story of Tricia, Thom, and Ravanne, fast and forever friends who spend a year together as middle school misfits. Told in first person through the character of Tricia, Sticks and Stones is based on Polacco’s own life. Tricia spends the summer with her family in Michigan and attends a whole year in a new school, with whom she thought were her best summer friends. As it turns out, Tricia quickly realizes her summer friends will not be her school friends. They leave her on the front steps, and Tricia finds herself alone in a new school. A boy named Thom befriends her, realizing they have first period together. Thom is a “gawky looking boy, with dark horn-rimmed glasses so thick that they made his eyes look as big as saucers” (p. 4).
Polacco’s stories and drawings are character-focused with the character’s faces and bodies large and leaping from the pages, showing emotions of joy, anger, relief, and determination. As in most of her books, Polacco takes on serious topics that are relatable and told in a child-friendly manner. Sticks and Stones is based on issues of bullying and examines gender roles, with Thom being a ballet dancer. When other students accidentally find out that Thom takes ballet, the bullying gets worse for him. Another theme of the book is perseverance and self-determination and not being afraid of what others think or say about you.
Patricia Polacco is a natural born storyteller and throughout this book she makes readers laugh. Thom, who is bullied the most, interestingly enough, is also the character with the quickest wit. When Thom and Tricia sit in their first class together, a voice booms, “Well, looky here. Sissy boy! And who’s the cootie with him? And look who Sissy Boy and Cootie are sitting with…Her Ugliness!” Thom then goes on to tell the mean boy, Billy, that his name is Thom spelled T-H-O-M and, their names are Ravanne and Tricia. He smiles looking at Tricia and whispers, “we’re known as sissy boy and her ugliness…at your service!” (p.4).
Sticks and Stones provides rich opportunities for children to share their stories of being bullied or seeing bullying. Furthermore, the character of Tricia is a strong example for young readers who want to stand up and support victims of bullying. The character we know the least about is Billy the bully. Polacco does not choose to tell his story, so we don’t know his background, family life, or what makes him so mean. In an Author’s Note at the end, Polacco shares information about the real-life characters of Thom and Ravanne with a “Where They Are Now” cap to the story. She also urges children who feel that they ‘march to a different drum’ to “step high! Strut your stuff with courage and goodwill”. She leaves the readers with her signature saying, “Your heart knows the way!” (p. 46).
Sticks and Stones can be paired with numerous books about bullying and anti-bullying, including, Polacco’s (2001) Mr. Lincoln’s Way in which Polacco gives voice to the bully and allows the reader to examine possible root causes of a bully’s meanness. Other possible pairs for this book include Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean by Jane Lynch, Lara Embry, A.E. Mikesell, and Tricia Tusa (2014), Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld (2015), Gabe & Izzy: Standing Up for America’s Bullied by Gabrielle Ford (2014), and Dear Bully: A Collection of Poems about Bullying by Joyce Fields (2011).
Patricia Polacco’s notable awards include the 1994 President’s Commendation Medal for Chicken Sunday (1992) and Pink and Say (1994); the 1996 Jo Osbourne Award for Humor in Children’s Literature; the 2009 Notable list of the National Coalition for the Rights of Gays and Lesbians (In Our Mother’s House, 2009); the 1996 David McCord Children’s Literature Citation and award for her body of work.
Patricia Polacco is known for her storytelling and art and has written and illustrated over 115 books for children. Her family comes from Russia, the Ukraine, and County Limerick in Ireland, cultures which value passing down their history through storytelling. Patricia earned multiple degrees in Art and Art History and has studied in the U.S., England, France, Russia and Australia. She is also known as an international advocate for the rights of children. She is a member of the National First Amendment Rights Coalition and has designed an anti-bullying campaign that is nationally recognized. More information can be found on her website www.patriciapolacco.com.
Julie Petitt, Texas Woman’s University
© 2021 by Julie Petitt
WOW Review, Volume XIII, Issue 3 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work by Julie Petitt at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/volume-xiii-issue-3/9/