Book Review: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

I could not help reading Laura Shovan’s The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary without thinking of my sixth grade students, now at home, and how our school is now closed (just like the Emerson Elementary is closing, but for different reasons) and traditions (like Step Up Day for us; Moving Up for the kids in the book) have all been rattled by the times.

This book’s premise is two-fold: each entry from the 18 kids of the classroom is part of a time capsule that will be installed on the grounds of the school, which is being demolished to make way for a grocery story; and each entry is written as a poem, with the 18 students represented on different days throughout the school year.

The result is a beautiful tapestry of stories — not just about the attempt to save the school through student protest and civic activism — but also of each student, as their home life and friendships and interests slowly emerge through the poems, and I appreciated the pace of the storytelling, how Shovan lets us settle in with the characters and watch many of them change over the poetic lens of a single year in fifth grade.

Not everything is knotted tight in resolution by the end, but that’s OK, too. We’ve come to trust the characters enough to wish them well on the next stage of their journey. And Shovan helpfully provides some valuable additions for the reader at the end — an overview of the many poetic styles used by her characters in their poems and a collection of writing/poetic prompts that one could use to write their own stories, told through poems.

Note: I was able to ‘meet’ Laura through her facilitation of the Water Poems Project at her blog and on Twitter, a recent daily water-themed poem project which I loved, and I bought her book because of that connection, and I am sure glad I did.

Peace (poetic style),


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