The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan


Goodreads: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016


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.

4 starsKrysta 64

5 thoughts on “The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

  1. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Great review- have to say though I find it peculiar that someone would be upset by people making fun of matzah- honestly I’m Jewish and know a lot of Jewish people- we make fun of it all the time! It tastes like cardboard!!! (thankfully it’s only a thing to eat it once a year!)


    • Krysta says:

      I think her problem was that they were making fun of it because it was a “weird” food they didn’t eat and not because they’d eaten it and thought it was worthy of some light-hearted mockery. But I think it’s great that at least you and your friends can get some amusement out of having to eat it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        but it is weird food! No one should want to eat it- it’s called the “bread of affliction” for a reason! Now- if some nutcase actually screamed in my face “you freak- why do you eat matzah” I’d laugh my head off. That’d be hilarious! Let me just say- from the bottom of my heart- that I hope the only thing Neo-Nazis aspire to in the future is insulting matzah! I’ll even pretend to be offended, just so long as they keep doing it! 😉 Sorry for the rambly reply- just found the whole idea thoroughly entertaining and went with it!


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