Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
by Laura Shovan
jacket and interior art by Abigail Halpin
Wendy Lamb Books (Penguin Random House), April 12, 2016
review ARC provided by the author

What a treat it was to spend a fifth grade year as a fly on the wall in Ms. Hill's classroom at Emerson Elementary!

Except for the fact that she only had 18 students in that class, Ms. Hill's class could have been one of mine. The diversity mix is right, including a hijab-wearer, a Spanish speaker, and a kid on the spectrum. The mix of personality types was also right. There is a queen bee girl (and a reluctant follower who finally stands up for what she wants), an intense rule-follower, a new kid trying to find his place.

I could go on, because one of the things that makes this book so fun to read is that Laura gets her characters so right, so believable, so quirky and likable. Each one has a distinct voice that shines out through his/her poems (and the little headshot sketch at the top of every page also helps the readers keep the characters straight). Just like in a regular classroom, no child ever comes to school without carrying the baggage of their home lives, and Ms. Hill's students' lives make it into their poetry. As I read, I found myself sharing their hopes and wishing their wishes.

And then there's the poetry. When I started reading, I sticky-noted more than a half-dozen poetry forms before I said to myself, "Hey, savvy reader, remember when you got all the way to the end of Love That Dog before you realized that the mentor poems were in the back of the book?" Sure enough, when I flipped to the back, I found information about all the poetry forms found throughout the book, along with a suggestion for trying each one out and a reference back to a mentor poem in that form in the book. Writing prompts from Ms. Hill's "Prompt Jar" are also listed, again each with a mentor poems that was written from that prompt.

Finally, there's the very believable story of a neighborhood in transition and the struggle between what's loved and what's needed that ties together the fabulous characters and the wonderful variety of poems.

I can think of three readers to whom I could hand this book when I get my copy in mid-April, and I can imagine a small group who would love reading it and trying out the writing challenges. Plus, I think it would make a perfect read aloud under the document camera to introduce a whole class to verse novels and, as a bonus, to a variety of poetry forms! Thank you, Laura Shovan, for this wonderful book!


  1. Is this the week of terrific new poetry books that everyone needs to own?? Can't wait to read this one, as well as the two others you have posted this week!

    1. As a matter of fact, that was EXACTLY the point of this week's reviews!! :-)

  2. I could not agree more. And I love that idea of reading it aloud under the document camera. Please share if you do that - such a smart way to introduce verse novels. Hooray for those Emerson kids and their teacher! Hooray for Laura! Hooray for teachers like you! xx

  3. Wow—sounds wonderful!

  4. Can't wait to get my hands on this one! Beautiful review too!

  5. I've read the book and we had a great Skype visit with Laura. I plan to use the forms and prompts for National Poetry Month. What a gifted writer and generous soul!

  6. This sounds like a suburb book - I am definitely going to check it out! Thank you for another good pick.


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