Goodreads: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
At the end of the year, the Board plans to raze Emerson Elementary to the ground to make way for a new supermarket. Eighteen fifth graders write poems about themselves, their families, and their feelings about growing up and moving on as they struggle to find their voices.
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is pure middle-grade gold. It has all the best traits of MG contemporary: diverse characters, poignant stories of growing up and leaving things behind, unique voices, and an emphasis on finding one’s voice and taking a stance. Initially I was unsure I would like a book composed in poetry, but the format here works nicely to create a collage, funny and heartfelt, of the experience(s) of going through fifth grade.
The story of the class is told completely through poems, the premise being that fifth-grade teacher Ms. Hill has instructed the class to compose poetry about themselves for a time capsule to be placed in the new supermarket being built on the site of their school. The students are incredibly open and honest, even admitting at times that they are grateful their teacher has given them this chance to speak honestly about their feelings. Deployed mothers, broken friendships, divorced parents, and dying grandparents all feature. Some students talk about the experience of being the new kid, or of moving to America from Jerusalem. Some talk about their religion, of feeling unsure about wearing the hijab or sad their friends make fun of matzoh. A wide array of voices speak, but they come together to create a picture of a class trying to find its way.
Behind the individual plot lines lies a overarching plot about what it means to have the school torn down. Some look forward to creating themselves anew in a different school, but many feel they, as children, are not being heard. Freedom of speech, the political process, and the need to take a stand trouble the young poets. What can they do to be heard? What will they risk? And will any of it matter?
The eighteen kids of Emerson’s fifth grade captured my heart. I rooted for them, suffered with them, and triumphed with them. I hope Laura Shovan will bring us many more novels.