The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

illus. by Abigail Halpin. 256p. ebook available. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Apr. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780553521375; lib. ed. $18.99. ISBN 9780553521382.
Gr 4–6—At the end of the term, Emerson Elementary School will be bulldozed to make way for a shopping center and students will be reassigned to other schools in the district. This change is particularly hard for the 18 fifth graders in Ms. Hill's class. She tasks them with keeping a poetry journal throughout the year; their poems will be placed in a time capsule at the end of the year. The students write about their feelings, the project, the imminent changes to their community, and their worries about middle school through alternating poems divided into four quarters. One girl's mother is being deployed, a boy's father recently left the family, and another boy's beloved grandfather is ailing. With the gentle guidance of their teacher, who may have been arrested in the 1960s protesting the Vietnam War, they become socially aware and organize a movement to protest the school closure. The distinct personalities of the students shine through in a variety of poetic forms. Sadness, humor, anger, and hope are expressed in authentically young voices. The poetic forms are discussed in further detail in the back matter, making for a great teaching resource.
VERDICT This gently evocative study of change in all its glory and terror would make a terrific read-aloud or introduction to a poetry unit. A most impressive debut.

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