Tuesday, April 12, 2016


[I'm pausing again in my science + poetry celebration to do something a bit different.]

I'd like to toot the horn for a brand new book out today:

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan (published by Random House) and illustrated by Abigal Halpin. Check out Laura's blog here and Abigail's blog here.

This is a new novel in verse for the middle grades (gr. 3-7) and I was fortunate to read an advance copy and create an educator's guide for the book. You can find a link to the whole guide here. (The activities are even correlated with the CCSS, if that's helpful to you.)

Here's the publisher's blurb that describes the book: Is the pen mightier than a bulldozer? Fifth grade poets stand up to save their school in this delightful debut novel. This year, Ms. Hill’s fifth graders are writing poems to put into a time capsule. This year, the school board plans to tear down their school to build a supermarket. They might be the last fifth grade class of Emerson Elementary. No way! Inspired by Ms. Hill’s 1960’s political activism, the students decide to save their beloved school. As they circulate petitions, stage sit-in, and test the waters of democratic action, personal questions, triumphs, and sorrows find their way into their poems.

Here are a few nuggets from the guide to whet your appetite!

This novel in verse is broken into four sections using the idea of “quarters” of the school year and months and days of the calendar. Before each section, stop and talk about what usually happens during this time of the school year (e.g., seasons, holidays, special events). Then after each section, review those highlights and how they affected the fictional students and what readers anticipate might happen next. Use the poem titles to help guide the discussion about the big topics, themes, and ideas along the way.

Before sharing this book, display a copy of your class roster and invite students to consider what a book might be like that features a cast of characters as big as a class. If you have a group photo of the class, show that, too. Or show a vintage photo of a class from years gone by available at Shorpy.com. Talk about how this book offers a verbal “snapshot” of one class across a whole school year—all told through poems written as if by 18 children in one fifth grade class.

There are 18 fifth grade students featured in Ms. Hill’s class in THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY and the story unfolds from their multiple points of view. In addition, the students are portrayed in tiny portraits on the cover of the book. Challenge students to visualize each of the student characters in the book as they read, making notes about the unique personality and situation of each character using the “class seating chart” sheet below. They can decide where each student sits on the chart and what key words they would use to describe each student and add those words to each student’s desk. They might even consider which of these fictional students they may want to be for a readers’ theater performance.
And there's heaps more in the guide itself and in the book to explore! 

Related Books
Plus, if you'd like to link this verse novel with other related books of poetry, here you go. For further reading, here are other books of poetry told through multiple (fictional) student perspectives:
Cheng, Andrea. 2008. Where the Steps Were. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong.
Frost, Helen. 2014. Room 214: A Year in Poems. (10th Anniversary Reissue of Spinning Through the Universe, 2004). New York: Macmillan.
Herrick, Steven. 2008. Naked Bunyip Dancing. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong.
Sidman, Joyce. 2007. This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

And for a collection of poems that features one poem for every day of the school year, counting down from the first day of school to the last, look for:
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year. Ill. by Ethan Long. New York: Little, Brown.


Maria Gianferrari said...

This looks great, Sylvia! I attended her workshop on verse novels last month at an SCBWI conference in MD.

Congrats, Laura :)

Sylvia Vardell said...

Cool that you got to chat and learn from Laura!