Just 2 months ago, on April 12, author and poet Laura Shovan celebrated a book birthday: her debut middle grade novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Random House Children’s Books) was officially released, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
In advance of the release, Laura began a blog tour of her ARC (Advance Review Copy), in which children’s lit bloggers across the country could read the book, share their thoughts on it, and pass it along to the next blogger.
Well, it all wraps up today, as I’m the final blogger on the tour – and I’m so happy for Laura!
It’s an engrossing book, detailing the lives of 18 students in Ms. Hill’s class and their personal struggles and joys with themselves, each other, and the fact that the school board has announced that the school will be closing at the end of the year to be turned into a mall.
Each poem is told from a particular student’s point of view, which allows the reader to get to know the characters intimately well. George Furst, for example (whose middle name is Washington thanks to his history-loving parents), is running for class president but wishes his mother and father had not divorced.
Hannah Wiles is the Type-A, in-charge, know-it-all who, aside from also running for class president, is also struggling with parental issues. Brianna Holmes, meanwhile, is creative and proud – and homeless. Newt Matthews has Asperger’s.
Through each of their poems, the individual students’ personalities develop over the course of the book, and it’s nice to see their progress and level of maturity by the time the last poem ends. Both funny and poignant in turn, The Last Fifth Grade is a touching book that is as easy to read as it is as easy to get lost in. I do have to admit, the students seem far more worldly and mature than my fifth grade class!
In fairness and honesty, the only disappointment I have to note (and I hate to even mention this, as we’re talking about my friend, Laura’s, book!) is that three of the eighteen students are dealing with the lack of a father in their lives: George Furst, whose dad left the family earlier in his life; Hannah Wiles, who has to live with her dad while her mom is stationed overseas, and Mark Fernandez, whose father passed away.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a stay-at-home dad who works out of the house – hence, I’m a bit touchy on this subject – but no one seems to bemoan living with their mother. Yes, there are some very commendable dads in the book, and I appreciate Laura’s implication of the importance of fathers; I just think it would have been more balanced had there been at least one home that was happy with their dad, even though mom was absent.
But that’s a minor quibble. The importance, of course, is the interaction of the students and their growth throughout this transformative year. Through rich yet kid-friendly language, well-crafted characters, and a wide array of poetic forms (from free verse and haiku to sonnets and limericks), Laura tells a tale that kids will want to follow from first page to last!