Lizs Book Snuggery

Celebrate Women’s History Month 2023 With Great Picture Books

The Art of Miss Chew

By Patricia Polacco

Women’s History Month, which is running through March of this year, is cause to celebrate the many and mighty accomplishments of women, both seen and unseen, here in the United States….and for that matter, across the globe.

In viewing the web site of Women’s History Month, it said that it is about:

commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” 

I found it filled with information that I found surprising. For instance, women far outrun men in the numbers attending college in the U.S. And though it may not raise many eyebrows, there was a time in the not too distant past when this was not so. In fact, women participating in higher education were a bit of a phenomenon. How quickly we forget!

And if we do, how much more can the young girls of today not quite conceive of a time when this opportunity was not even open to women.

I’m an admirer of the picture books of Patricia Polacco. Several of her books depict themes of inspirational teachers and their effect on the future potential of their students and those students’ beliefs in themselves. The quote, “Great oaks from little acorns grow” sort of dovetails with Ms. Polacco’s view of one teacher’s ability to influence and empower.

If I dig back into my high school Latin, the term education comes from “educare” meaning to draw out, implying something that’s already present. So, it seems appropriate during Women’s History Month and especially because of its theme of education empowering women, to feature Ms. Polacco’s newest book, The Art of Miss Chew which speaks to one young woman empowering another.

In Patricia Polacco’s realistic telling of a relationship with her high school art teacher, Miss Chew, Patricia is again in familiar territory.  In a letter to the reader Patricia Polacco shares Violet Chew’s transference of a gift to perceive, evaluate and appreciate the beauty of art.

A substitute teacher, Mrs. Spaulding, enters the picture filling in for Patricia’s regular teacher, Mr. Donovan, who is aware of Patrica’s learning needs (Patricia is dyslexic) and has allowed Patricia to enter the rarefied world of high school art in a specialized class. Mrs. Spaulding attempts to thwart this with the quote, “Your time would be better spent studying for your tests, instead of leaving this school to take art classes. And I’m going to see if I can make that happen.”

The stage for confrontation is set but Miss Chew and a gathering of principals and other administrators agree that Patricia, because of her dyslexia, does see things differently than most children. Patricia thrives and is validated when she is asked to be part of the high school spring art show as the only exhibiting student who is not in high school.

I love this book because it is very inspiring, enlightening and affirming. The real Miss Chew went on to become Patricia Polacco’s art teacher at Oakland Technical High School during the 1960’s. And according to Miss Polacco, it is only because of her that she was able to earn a scholarship to California College of the Arts.

While Women’s History Month may bring forth images of the Elizabeth Cady Stantons, the Eleanor Roosevelts and the Marie Curies, legendary giants of women’s entry into a host of once primarily male fields of interest, it is also well to remember women like Violet Chew, who in their interaction with generations of students sent ripples across the ponds owe f many women’s lives.

I am so proud that I had my own version of Miss Chew in my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Alida Kratnoff, who inspired excellence and confidence in anything one set one’s hand to attempt. She is the reason I chose teaching for a profession.

The example of role modeling set by all of these women is still the strongest teacher for future generations of women.

And speaking of modeling relience, tenacity, mutiti-tasking and the plethora of jobs that working and stay at home moms do seven days a week, I applaud both them and my own mom, Elizabeth Hart and my mother-in-law, Antoinette Shanks during Women’s History Month.

They taught me how to navigate life, how to love unconditionally and to realize we are much more than what we earn, wear or drive.

We are an important part of the engine that sustains the human family, whatever form it takes, and that is reason to celebrate them every day.


  1. Judith Connell on March 9, 2017 at 3:02 pm


    • admin on March 11, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Hey Jude,
      Thank you for the “Amen.” Alida Kratnoff is STILL amazing and a friend and mentor that I rely on today. Do you remember the reports that we wrote for her class on various countries? We were assigned to write to their consulates for information. This would have been 1959. I was assigned IRAQ. This woman was way ahead of the times. Miss you and hope all is well with you and the family.

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