Last week, Laura Shovan’s The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary finally arrived at my doorstep:
There is so much to love about this novel in verse. First, the story itself: eighteen fifth graders writing poems as a yearlong assignment and in the process discovering themselves and what they hold dear. I found myself cheering on their desire to save Emerson Elementary from the wrecking crew
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.
And I found myself deeply engaged in each of their individual stories, with family issues, friend issues, growing up issues to sort though and figure out. Taken together, the poems of The Last Fifth Grade represent a year of growing up together (which is really what every class does) and making it through the messiness of life together. But, taken individually, it is equally powerful to see how each student makes the journey through their school year, learning how to cope with issues as varied as wearing their hijab to school without fear, coping with a parent’s deployment or divorce, or a grandparent’s illness and death. growing up is so very hard, and requires so much bravery. These poems are a lovely testament to that.
I loved the diversity of these voices, too; Emerson Elementary is a microcosm of our global village, with many cultures, and many socio economic currents running through its fabric. Each of the eighteen characters brings something of their heritage to their common life as fifth graders, and the school community is enriched because of this. Some students, for instance, have never had cause to wonder about how a good grocery store within walking distance of their homes could impact anyone’s life (Emerson is to be replaced with a grocery store), because they don’t have to. But for some other students, both of whose parents work, it becomes a necessity:
And I loved reading the variety of poetry packed into these pages: from tanka to haiku and rap poems, they are all here – and gloriously so.
What a treat to read The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary! This would be a wonderful book for my sixth graders to read and discuss as a book group. What a rich experience they will have!
The Story I’ll Tell written by author Nancy Tupper Ling and illustrated by artist Jessica Lanan, is a lovely picture book for adoptive families, which begins: “Someday when you ask where you came from, I’ll tell you a story.”
Each story is lyrical, hopeful, and loving:
I teach sixth grade, but I know many of my students would love to read and know the warmth of this story, which is really every child’s most important “secret power” – knowing they are wanted and loved.
A beautiful, beautiful book.