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The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

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Laura Shovan’s engaging, big-hearted debut is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.

Eighteen kids,
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
crouched outside,
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.

But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.

Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices Honor Book
Cybils Award in Poetry
An NCTE Notable Verse Novel
Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year
ILA-CBC Choices Reading Lists, Children’s Choices
SCBWI Crystal Kite Finalist, Midatlantic Region
Lectio Book Award Finalist

Nominated for:
Massachusetts Children's Book Award
New Hampshire Great Stone Face Book Award
Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards
Rhode Island Children’s Book Award
Wisconsin State Reading Association Children's Book Awards

227 pages, Hardcover

First published April 12, 2016

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About the author

Laura Shovan

10 books137 followers
Laura Shovan is a children's novelist, arts educator, and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. She has edited literary journals and anthologies. Laura Shovan’s middle grade debut, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, won multiple awards including the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices honor book. Her middle grade sports novel TAKEDWON was selected for Junior Library Guild, PJ Our Way, and the ALA’s RISE Project. A PLACE AT THE TABLE, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, was a Sydney Taylor Notable. Laura is a longtime poet-in-the-schools and serves on the faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in writing for children and young adults. Her first poetry collection for kids, WELCOME TO MONSTERVILLE, will be published in 2023.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 386 reviews
Profile Image for Brooks Benjamin.
Author 1 book154 followers
January 3, 2016
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There comes a time in every reader's life when they must get
A certain novel which by definition does not fit
Inside their comfy world of what they typically do read,
But manages somehow to turn into a book they need.

I will not lie, the rhyming style of novels put in verse
Was something I tried to avoid. They frightened me at first.
My introduction to this world just so happened to be
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary.

Right as I started reading this, my fears were soon abated.
I could not stop absorbing all what Shovan had created.
Each page a child, each child a voice so different from the rest,
And every single one had thoughts they needed to express.

Their fears and dreams and thoughts on how their school is being taken
Away from every one of them; the school board has forsaken
All hopes of saving their fifth grade, but this class won't concede,
Because they aim to show their town their school is still in need.

I will not spoil the ending (that would simply lack all prudence),
But rest assured my heart is full of pride for these great students.
And also for the author and the way she has convinced me
That books in verse are such a gorgeous way to tell a story.
Profile Image for S.M. Parker.
Author 4 books187 followers
December 23, 2015
*Deep, glorious sigh* I have such a book hangover from this beautiful middle grade debut. Shovan wrote her entire book in a series of poems, all brimming with unique characters, humor, determination and pride.
I smiled fully at the richness of personality in verses like:
"Some mornings
my words are clumsy.
They bump into each other.
They've got as much rhythm
as an octopus
doing the chicken dance."

The book explored so many amazing historical events and people, The March on Washington and the tranquil introspection of Ralph Waldo Emerson being examples. Then there was the history the students made in the now. Together. The impact of their advocacy:
"If I don't help
write that petition,
will it be
something I'm sorry for
when you're
future me?"

This book asked the reader to think about each action, each reaction and the impact that our choices have on our collective future and our individual legacies. Will we be sorry if we don't work to protect what is fragile? These are all big questions for kids, for sure. But Shovan's poetry makes these huge concepts accessible for the middle grade reader.

For me, this was so much more than a class trying to save their school. This book was about saving art in schools, treasuring the uniqueness in every learner's voice, and valuing each person's participation in community. But also, it is fun. So fun. Hilarious in places. Okay, I'm off to read it again...
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 5 books204 followers
August 5, 2015
I love novels in verse, and this one offered such a wide array of poetic form that it was truly impressive. The reader can't help but follow each student's story with interest as they face the dilemma that their school may shut down forever--a truly frightening prospect for students of any age! Perfect for readers who'd like to explore verse with a heartfelt story, Shovan's debut will grab students' attention and hold it as they wait to find out if this will be THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.
Profile Image for Abby Cooper.
Author 7 books169 followers
August 1, 2015
What a wonderful book! As others have said, all eighteen characters are phenomenal, and it's pretty much impossible to choose a favorite. Ms. Hill's class is extremely diverse in every sense of the word; there are students who speak different languages, who follow different religions, who come from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds. In other words, it's totally representative of a typical classroom in our world. I love that so many students will be able to see themselves and their friends reflected in the pages of this book.

In addition to getting a great story, readers of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE will have access to a ton of awesome poetry resources at the end of the book. Shovan provides prompts, ideas, and definitions that will turn anyone into a poetry pro. I think students are going to be extremely inspired after reading this book - to write, to work together, to have their voices heard. This is definitely one not to be missed!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
Author 3 books98 followers
August 9, 2015
I had the opportunity to read an early copy of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, and I am so glad I did.

Oh my goodness, this book was absolutely wonderful, and I was so sad when it ended. (I actually paused in my reading after the "third quarter" of the year because I didn't want their 5th grade year to end.) Laura Shovan is a masterful poet. Through her poetry in the voices of 18 (!) different, wonderfully unique kids, she has made their world and their journeys come alive. Every single student was easily recognizable, and the classroom of students was diverse. So many kids are going to be able to find themselves in this book.

I previously taught 5th grade, and this is absolutely a book I would buy a class set of to use with my students. There is so much great discussion that can come from this book, so many wonderful threads to explore. I also love the tips and suggestions for reading and writing poetry in the back. This book is going to inspire so many future poets and activists.

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is a really special book. I can't wait to read what Shovan dreams up next.
Profile Image for Heidi Heilig.
Author 9 books1,324 followers
November 26, 2015
So my new favorite first line ever is in Laura Shovan's THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY--voice and character and rhythm all in two words! (which words? you have to read to find out!) And the rest of the book did not disappoint. I was teary eyed at page two but giggling again soon after, and OMG MS. HILL!

It was a true joy getting to know each student through their poems, and you feel for all of them as the larger story unfolds. Some poems stand out in my memory as my absolute favorites: "Where They Live" broke my heart. "Four Square" is a masterpiece. But on every page was some new gem. Pay attention to the last lines on both page 52 and 53--solid gold and both in totally different ways--and Sydney's poem on November 17th. The ending of INSUBORDINATE was incredible, and Mark's poem about the Stargrams made my heart soar.

When I finished THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, i was filled with hope and touched with sorrow, just like growing up. Also I may have lost my heart to Jason Chen.

The ARC which I received for review included an amazing guide to poetry in the back matter. Great for discussions!

Profile Image for Carolee Noury.
380 reviews18 followers
June 24, 2016
This book! How I wish it had existed when I was in grade school.

Shovan's ability to bring 18 5th graders to life through various styles of poetry is magnificent.

That we're journeying with them through the normal trials and tribulations of growing up, with pressures and losses unique for some and universal nonetheless--loss, change, fears, while the entire group is saying goodbye to elementary school and the school building itself is remarkable.

This is a unique book with plenty to smile at, cheer for, and yes, cry over. (My goodness, toward the end I had to be in arm's reach of the tissue box.)

Awesome bonus: end sections with poem definitions/how-tos and prompts!

This book deserves its many accolades. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Victoria Coe.
Author 10 books99 followers
November 9, 2015
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

From start to finish, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is completely delightful in every way. Through the voices of 18 very real and very lovable fifth graders, we experience their individual stories as well as the collective story of their class during a very momentous year in the history of their school... in verse!

The students' poems are fun and entertaining, insightful and sad, and always full of heart. Each one is a window into the character's life, hopes, and fears. Together the poems create a rich, charming story that will stay with me for a long time. I'm rooting for every single one of these kids!

Highly recommended for all middle grade readers.
Profile Image for Kathleen Glasgow.
Author 11 books6,846 followers
February 3, 2016
I love, love, loved this book. So did my son, who turned down the latest chapter in THE GOBLET OF FIRE so we could finish this book. How could you not love a novel-in-verse from the point of view of fifth graders? Such a lovely book that isn't afraid to introduce difficult subjects to young kids: divorce, homelessness, and race. Shovan does an excellent job with voice: each student comes alive, individual and distinct. This would be a wonderful book to bring to a classroom as a way to get students writing their own poems and to introduce them to poetry.
Profile Image for Monica Tesler.
Author 5 books88 followers
April 3, 2016
I was fortunate to read an ARC of this book, and I adored it! I loved how the author included so many different kinds of poems. Each character was unique and fully developed, and I was interested in all of their perspectives. I also thought the world building was great--I could easily picture the class, playground, crossover to the middle school, etc. Not to get into spoiler territory, but I found the ending satisfying and realistic. The additional content in the back of the book was excellent. I think this book would be a terrific companion for teaching poetry in a late elementary classroom.
Profile Image for Lee Malone.
Author 2 books29 followers
January 16, 2016
What a creative, thoughtful gem of a book! Told through poems written by 18 students facing the closing of their school, each different voice shines as they share their own stories and perspectives on everything from their fears about middle school to first crushes to more. An absolutely lovely book that is worth reading and re-reading again and again.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ashley Blake.
Author 14 books4,596 followers
May 22, 2017
Adorable! I loved the diverse perspectives, handled with authenticity and sensitivity, and adored this inside look into this fifth grade class's community! LOVE!
Profile Image for Kali Wallace.
Author 26 books564 followers
July 21, 2015
This is an absolutely delightful story told through a series of lovely, heartfelt poems. Every student's voice is unique and interesting in its own way. Through their poems we get to watch them grow and change and adapt over the course of the school year, as they deal with not just the eventual closure of their school, but old friendships breaking up and new ones being made, parents divorcing or being deported, family members falling ill, crushes and disappointments and triumphs and so much more.

The poems are funny and sad, silly and beautiful, charming and heartbreaking, sometimes all at the same time. I dare you to pick a favorite character from among the students. They're all too wonderful! It's impossible to choose just one.
Author 27 books54 followers
August 24, 2015
I was lucky to read an advanced copy of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

I enjoyed getting to know the eighteen students in Ms. Hill's classroom, and I was so impressed with how their unique characters were developed in their poems. Each student's voice is so different and so clear.

This book should be in every classroom library. Friendship, democracy in action, and poetry--there's so much to love about THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.
Profile Image for Kathy MacMillan.
Author 31 books438 followers
September 1, 2015
I received an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

You will fall in love with the kids of THE LAST FIFTH grade. Each one emerges as an individual, and the class dynamics becoming achingly clear as each poem brings new perspectives. You'll pull for these kids to succeed in saving their school.
Profile Image for A.E. Conran.
Author 1 book20 followers
December 10, 2015
I have just finished this ARC from work and I really believe it will be a godsend to teachers and kids alike. A verse novel with a diverse and very recognizable cast of kids, who decide to try and save their school through civil action. I can already think of people to whom I will recommend this book: teachers wanting to bring new, inventive and fun poetry ideas into the classroom (there are fabulous resources at the back); all kid poetry lovers of which there are many; parents looking for characters to reassure their kids that they aren't alone, and kids looking to find themselves in a book and who are interested in the experiences of others; teachers looking at civics; teachers discussing civil rights actions; teachers and parents looking for a great transition to middle school book. This has great potential for English as a second language learners as the poetry is accessible but the subject matter more complex and great to get your teeth into. And after all that, I really was swept up in the stories of these wonderful young individuals and find myself still thinking of them as if they were real. This book will definitely find a valued place in the world.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews157k followers
May 9, 2017
Rioter Karina Glaser recommended this audiobook as one of the best of 2016 on the Book Riot end of year audiobook round-up, and I’m so glad I took the recommendation. The story is told through the poems of a fifth grade class dealing with the impending closing of their school – in addition to more day-to-day problems that are no less serious or personal. The poetic nature made the audiobook was one of my favorites I’ve ever listed to – 7 narrators doing 18 different voices bring the entire class and their stories to life – but the form of the book makes me want to get a hard copy as well just to see the words and the ways the poems come together in acrostic and diamante poems. But in whatever form you like, just track this book down in one shape or another.

— Trisha Brown

from The Best Books We Read In February 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/28/riot-r...
Profile Image for Elly Swartz.
Author 8 books155 followers
April 3, 2016
Timing is everything. How lucky I was to kick-off National Poetry Month with Laura Shovan’s debut novel, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY. There was so much to love in this story, written in its entirety in poems from the students of Ms. Hill’s class. Shovan is a master of poetry and does an exceptional job capturing 18 unique voices in a myriad of different poetic styles. She manages to give the reader insight into the students’ individual lives and challenges, while capturing their distinct voices as they come together to persuade the school board to save their school. It is a heart-felt story about finding yourself, your voice, and your cause. Loved it! Highly recommend.

I received an ARC of this book for an honest review of the story.
Profile Image for Jenn Bishop.
Author 5 books222 followers
July 14, 2015
How much can change in one school year? For the eighteen kids in Ms. Hill's fifth-grade class, the answer is: a lot. Knowing that their school, Emerson Elementary, is slated to be torn down at the end of the year to make way for a supermarket, the class is instructed to write poems for a time capsule. With these poems, representing a variety of poetry forms, these fictional kids pour out their hearts in confessions that are at points heartbreaking, at others, comical, but moving and honest throughout. Their struggles are diverse: divorce, a parent going overseas in the army, a sick grandparent, mean girls, financial hardship--and their joys, equally so: being the object of a crush, finding a new friend, having your opinions heard, and so much more. And then there's Ms. Hill, your ordinary teacher nearing retirement... or maybe not? Is there more to Ms. Hill than meets the eye? I loved seeing how Ms. Hill's past plays into these kids' present.

As these eighteen kids contend with their own issues in the midst of putting up a last-ditch fight for their beloved elementary school, they do a lot of growing up and learning in the process. This book is every bit as delightful and specific as its cover, which features the eighteen students whose poems we read. Shovan excels at creating distinct voices and situations for these characters. In books with two or more characters, sometimes it's easy to have a favorite one, or feel like you want to skip past some of the stories, but in this case, there was not one story thread that bored me. All of these kids felt so genuine and real. The language in the poems is so spot-on for this age group that at times, I felt like I was reading a poetry collection from a local fifth grade--there was that much honesty in the representation. It's very clear that Shovan knows her audience, and I can't wait to see this book in the hands of many, many, many kid readers. It'd also be a fantastic choice to use in the classroom; the extensive back matter provides many jumping-off points for lesson-building.

If you can't tell from the review, I love, love loved this book, and I can't wait to read whatever Laura Shovan dreams up next!
Profile Image for Ruth Lehrer.
Author 3 books65 followers
December 12, 2015
Who'd have thought such simplicity would pack such an evocative punch?
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is novel in verse, a tricky thing to pull off but Shovan composes a variety of poetic forms without breaking a sweat. Helped out by the little illustrations, all 18 characters have distinct personalities. The class is multicultural, poignantly intimate, and funny. I found myself having fifth grade flashbacks; the sudden memory of going to a Washington D.C. peace march with a sign that said, "Class 5-3 Wants Peace."

There's a terrific glossary at the end plus instructions on how to write your own poems. The book is worth it just for that. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this 2016 MG debut but as soon as it's on the shelves I'm buying a copy in case I get stuck in a room full of fifth-graders saying Don't make me read poetry.

And the highest praise I can think of; The Last Fifth Grade made me want to write.
Profile Image for Scott Fillner.
266 reviews36 followers
May 6, 2016
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is a great book for all middle grade readers. It has multiple characters, but is laid out in a way that is not confusing for readers to keep track of which voice is writing. The poetry in prose is done very well and is connected so that the story moves along at just the right pace. Each character has a different voice, which is refreshing.

At the end of the book there are some great resources for readers and educators. I will most definitely use this book with my class for our poetry unit next year.
Profile Image for Lilla.
307 reviews6 followers
June 7, 2016
Every classroom needs this book. I adored it!
Profile Image for Margaret.
278 reviews170 followers
April 18, 2016
This delightful novel in verse tells the story of one school year at Emerson Elementary School, which is scheduled to close at the end of the year to make way for a brand new supermarket. Ms. Hill, a much-loved fifth grade teacher (who has a mysterious old picture of herself dressed as a “hippie” on her desk), has assigned her eighteen students to write a series of poems in their Writer’s Notebooks over the course of the school year. These poems are to be collected and placed in a time capsule at the end of the school year.

The poems, which are written by each of the eighteen students, are placed in chronological order. (There are four sections, one for each quarter of the school year.) The school year is marked by familiar events: class election, a class trip to the Newseum, science fair, school play, Picture Day, the various holidays that punctuate the school year, and always, the looking forward to the “Moving Up Ceremony,” when the fifth graders become middle school students. Each student writer has a distinctive voice and character. Each has his or her own interests, family situations, perspectives, personalities, and so on. Despite all that is always going on, it is not at all difficult to keep track of individual life stories, interconnections between characters, or the plot. (It helps that there are pictures of the 18 on an inside sheet with names beneath each picture. Furthermore, each poem includes an individual portrait along with the title of the poem and the name of the student who wrote it.) While Shovan’s students have very individualized voices and concerns, the class manages to come together to fight against the Board of Education’s plan to close the school at the end of the school year.

The eighteen students keep their own voices as they write in a wide variety of poetic forms. At the end of the book, Shovan includes a section called “A Closer Look at the Poems in This Book.” In it she includes hints on how to read poems by suggesting the kinds of things readers might look for in the poems as they read. She also includes information about the many different poetic forms contained in the book, a series of poetry prompts from the class’s prompt jar, and a short but useful glossary. These sections make the book a perfect choice for a (fifth grade?) classroom. But don’t be fooled; this book is just as delightful to read person by person. It is a winner with or without the lessons or the school room. While its intended audience is children (it is published by Random House’s Children’s Books), but I, who have not been a child for many decades, loved this book too.
Profile Image for Brittany.
725 reviews25 followers
April 7, 2017
Incredible. I was not ready for this one to end.

I HAVE to find a way to use this in my classroom next year. It had so much educational value, besides being beautiful, moving and pleasing to read.

Each page is a different student author and his/her poem. The book is also divided into quarters like a school year, so cute!

The kids rotate their voices (a la Because of Mr. Terupt) and their voices are so profound. My favorites were Katie and Norah, but it was hard to pick just too (my heart also broke for Hannah and George a few times, too, and I wanted to offer them hugs).

Katie is an individual and she's trying to find a voice separate from her successful, yet controlling Mom. Norah is from Jerusalem and makes comments about the cultural differences in her first and second countries that really open the reader's eyes to things we take for granted.

This book discusses several important topics for children including: divorce, poverty, working poor (omg-the red dress--tears---you'll know what I mean when you read it!), protest, Hispanic culture, Middle Eastern culture, puberty, sexism, agism, change, finding your voice, government, environmentalism,...get my point?!?! Wow!
Profile Image for Dana.
37 reviews1 follower
November 28, 2015
I was able to participate an ARC of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary and promised to give my honest review. I also should add that the author is a friend and our daughters attended elementary school together. I even have a great picture of both of them with their own Ms. Hill at their Moving Up ceremony. So here is what I honestly think. I know nothing at all about poetry. I do not read it. But don't let that stop you from reading this novel because this middle-grade book told in prose was a real gem. I love that we get to know these elementary school children "in their own words," and we get to truly see their fears, their hopes, their dreams. Things that most kids wouldn't write about or even talk about. My heart broke many times because while I know they aren't real, I've seen parts of all of these kids in all of the children my own girls have gone to school with. They are real. They are strong. They are scared. They are brilliant. And they will survive middle school. Loved them and loved the book. Thank you Laura!
Profile Image for Mary Ann.
1,485 reviews279 followers
May 24, 2016
Laura Shovan's novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is full of distinct voices that prompt us to think about different students' unique perspectives. It's one my students are enthusiastically recommending to one another.

Through these short poems, Shovan captures the distinct, unique voices of each student. The class is diverse in many ways--racially, ethnically, economically, and more. At first, I wondered if I would really get to know the different students since each page focused on a different child; however, as the story developed, I really did get a sense of each individual as well as the class as a whole. Shovan creates eighteen distinctive individuals--with personalities and backgrounds that we can relate to and envision. And these experiences shape how each individual reacts to the year.

Full review at my blog Great Kid Books
Profile Image for Amy Allgeyer.
Author 2 books48 followers
March 25, 2016
I just loved this book to pieces! It's written in verse, and tells the story of the last fifth grade class of a school that's about to be torn down. The poems are all written by kids in the class. What's amazing are how the voices (eighteen of them) are all so distinct. Even from the brief lines we see of each child, we get a clear feeling of their characters. Each voice is so unique! I also love the way Shovan works details of the kids' lives into the poems. They're struggling and celebrating the same things all kids do. This book is such a slice of life, and so authentically middle-grade, it's hard to believe the poems weren't actually written by children. Delightful, thoughtful, and moving--I highly recommend this book.

(I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.)
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 10 books88 followers
October 6, 2015
I received an ARC of this book for an honest review.

There's something special about novels-in-verse. The emotions that wash over you as you read, sometimes crashing down like a giant wave, and sometimes tickling your toes in the sand. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is no exception. This book is a beautiful celebration of the individual. No matter what we see of a person on the outside, there are always deeper, hidden struggles and dreams.

I want my children to read this. To remember kindness is always better. To seek to understand others, even when it's hard. To fight for the things that matter to them, even when they feel powerless. This book teaches all of that, without ever being preachy.
Profile Image for Mark Vukovic.
102 reviews1 follower
July 23, 2015
My name is Abby. I'm 11, and I thought that this book was incredible! It was happy, sad, and moving, all at the same time. I read it in one sitting! I highly recommend this book. There are so many great characters who all have such perfect personalities. Each and every one of those eighteen fifth graders have such original points of view. I couldn't put this book down!
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