Each month, the Chancellor selects a children’s book that she feels is inspirational and informative for the students, parents, and staff members who make up the City’s public schools. For past book selections, review the “Book of the Month” category right here on The Morning Bell.

Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece
By Patricia Polacco
Illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Penguin Group, 2014

What happens when a student with a fear of public speaking is given the lead role in her school’s annual winter play?

The result can only be described as a “masterpiece.”

In May’s Book of the Month, Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, Patricia is a promising young student who loves to write but dreads speaking in front of groups of people. One day, Patricia’s teacher, Mr. Tranchina, or Mr. T. asks her to get up in front of the classroom and read an essay aloud. Unfortunately, Patricia cannot bring herself to do it, and she sits back down, unable to speak a single syllable of her essay.

Later that day, Mr. T. introduces Patricia to Mr. Wayne, the school’s drama teacher, who has a suggestion for the young student: join his drama class and be a part of the school’s winter play, “Musette in the Snow Garden.”

Patricia can hardly believe it; does Mr. Wayne really think she can get up on a stage…in front of actual people?

The next day, after discussing the situation with her mother, Patricia takes up Mr. Wayne’s offer. At first, Mr. Wayne puts Patricia in charge of painting scenery and building sets for the play, which he jokingly refers to as his “masterpiece.” Patricia enjoys the work, and she is especially fascinated listening to the play’s cast. Days pass, and before long, Patricia memorizes everyone’s lines and becomes the play’s prompter for the student-actors who cannot memorize all of their parts.

Then suddenly, a week before the play’s scheduled performance, Patricia and the rest of the cast find out that the student who was originally supposed to play the lead role of Musette has suddenly moved away without notice. Who would fill in and become Musette now? Soon, all eyes turn to Patricia, as she knows all of Musette’s lines. But Patricia just cannot see herself becoming Musette, as she is still too afraid to speak in front of an audience.

Determined to make this play a success, Mr. Wayne works one-on-one with Patricia. He has her go through Musette’s lines, one scene at a time. “Let the play take you,” Mr. Wayne instructs.

Before long, Mr. Wayne has his new Musette. As the story concludes with the night of the play, Patricia overcomes some initial jitters and delivers a rousing performance. From the moment the curtain opens, Patricia is in the moment. She forgets the audience, her fears, her knees, everything. She is ON FIRE.

Thanks to Mr. Wayne’s guidance, Patricia is able to overcome her anxieties, and in the process, creates a memory that lasts a lifetime. And by standing up to her fears with courage and grace, Patricia becomes Mr. Wayne’s “masterpiece.”

I love this story, as Patricia’s speech anxieties strike a chord with most of us;

after all, who does not feel a butterfly or two when speaking in front of an audience? As educators, we can especially draw inspiration from Mr. Wayne’s steady, patient, and empathic guidance to help Patricia overcome a rather strong fear of public speaking.

Research has shown that fear of public speaking among children can disrupt academic progress and jeopardize future career opportunities. I encourage you to think about your young ones and consider what you can do to help them strengthen their oratory skills. Perhaps you could encourage them to speak out loud through word games, or work with them to make eye contact when speaking with others, for example. Anything you can do to help your children to develop these skills will help them improve their overall chance of success in school and in life.

Let us all follow Mr. Wayne’s example and create little “masterpieces” of our own.

Posted by Carmen Fariña

Former Chancellor of NYC Schools, lifelong educator, native Brooklynite, and proud abuela.

One Comment

  1. Thanks Chancellor Farina for this book suggestion (Patricia Polacco is one of my favorite authors!) and your comments regarding the importance of strengthening students’ oratory skills. When I facilitate professional development sessions with academic teachers in our partner schools (Education Through Music – http://www.etmonline.org), I give teachers creative strategies to use music as a tool to change the context of a piece, to act as a partner to help shy kids with presentation skills, and to help everyone with expression.
    I enjoy your posts!