Visit Jen at Teach MentorTexts and Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders to see what they've been reading, along with everyone else who link up.
Be sure to go here to Irene Latham's post at Live Your Poem for line number seventeen of her own creation, the April Progressive Poem.
I've been writing a poem most days, but this time want to share an extraordinary verse novel just out last week, and other recent books who deserve the description, poetic. All wonderful books to read and love!
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary - Laura Shovan
I do love verse novels, and in the past few years, numerous ones have been published that have touched me, made me laugh or cry, entertained and inspired. I’ve waited a long time for this particular one by Laura Shovan because she is a blogger and poet friend and I knew when she announced the book was going to be published, was coming out, when the party was, and knew I would love it. I didn’t teach fifth grade, but 6th, 7th & 8th graders for a lot of years, and Laura has shown these “ready-to-be” adolescents in perfect ways. They still play, a little; they want to “like” another, and be “liked” by someone, but not too closely; and perhaps most of all, they want to be listened to.
Emerson Elementary is going to be torn down at the end of the year, and this fifth grade teacher, Ms. Hill, has asked her students to write a poem each quarter reflecting on the change and on their personal lives. The poems will be placed in a time capsule, opened in twenty-five years. Laura moves the reader through the year, a quarter at a time, introducing each student through his or her poems, with a tiny label and snapshot pic at the top of the page. It helps, because it’s hard to know the students at first, except stereotypically: the girl who bosses her friends, the boy who is new, the boy whose father had left the family, the girl who wears a hijab and on. But Laura’s trick is to show so much of each student within the poem, one soon begins to think, “Oh, that’s the one who’s bossy, maybe needy, and now she’s lost a friend.” or “How sad that he believes he doesn’t have anyone to talk with.” One early line I love is when Katie complains about writing time again! She writes, “My words are still/crawling out of bed.” And a girl named Sydney with a twin (but not in all things) talks about her own clothes on picture day, that she hates skirts. “It feels weird when I walk.” The poem shows beautifully how everyone feels on picture day choices: “I thought a purple shirt would be okay,/but I look like an exploding grape soda/or a purple blob.” Another feels more comfortable writing her poems in Spanish, and classmates help her translate them into English.
As I read, I began to know the students, just as a teacher begins to “know” her own students when the year moves from quarter to quarter. The thread that binds the story is the hope of these fifth graders, the last ones at Emerson Elementary, who realize that like their teacher who has participated in sit-ins, fighting for her own cause, they too can join together to try to stop the demolition of their school. Certain students take the lead, and the class begins to see that words and actions matter-even from fifth graders.
Most poignant are those kids Laura allows to open their hearts about things outside school. Ms. Hill must be so proud of these students who are writing from their lives. Edgar writes about his grandpa a lot: “I wish/Grandpa was/a kid again. I think/we would be friends.” We learn about Norah’s new hijab sent by her cousin Amina who goes to school in Paris. See how much Laura’s words tell about these kids!
Within the poems, we also learn how wonderful Ms. Hill is, the teacher who helps in many ways, and is about to retire after this year. Tyler, a new kid to the school, writes: “Out there, there’s someone/like me who needs/a teacher like you.” I could continue for a long time-sharing poignant and revealing moments, but you’ll have to get the book to understand and fall in love with this “last fifth grade of Emerson Elementary”.
The poems themselves are varied, and thanks to Laura, there is added information about all the forms, and the reader also is given the delight of the Poetry Prompt jar mentioned within the story. This is poetry for adults, perhaps especially teachers who will understand that this is how a teacher knows a class; and poetry for students, who will certainly find students they may recognize, in themselves or in their classmates. I loved this new verse novel!
Maybe A Fox - Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee
Kathi Appelt adds magic to her stories, and now with her close friend, Alison McGhee, they’ve written a story that no one should miss. This is one I couldn’t wait to read a little more each day, hard to put down, but also didn’t want to end it too quickly!
Sylvie and Jules live in a wooded area with their dad, still missing their mom who collapsed with a bad heart when they were young. Only Sylvie remembers and is the one to tell Jules about their mother. There is a river nearby, a “slip” that is part of the “do nots” from Dad. “Do not ever go near the slip!” They roam the woods, free to look for beauty and rocks, and to watch the wild animals. A nearby friend Sam is nearly always there, too. His older brother, Elk, is back from a war, but also back without his best friend Jake. Jake’s mother, Mrs. Harless, tells tales of the Grotto, a missing part of the river, so ancient that it seems to murmur stories to all these young ones, but no matter how hard they look, it stays hidden. And there is the Fox, Senna. Alternating chapters show the birth of this fox, weaving her own questions into Jules’ questions. The “wish rocks” thrown into the slip, with “burning wishes” keep Jules going. She is the rock hound, the one who might finally discover the secret to Sylvie’s wish, the one whose final words Sylvie would never share, “run faster so that . . .” Terrible loss and grief underlie the story, with big questions that need answers. Sometimes it’s time to discover the answers by oneself.
The Night Gardener - Terry and Eric Fan
Sometimes there is a book that one must read more than once, look at the pages slowly, and know that children too will love it. I read this one, and then again, then to my granddaughters who wanted it again. How often do we wish for a bit of magic to appear in our lives? Young William looks out his window one morning to see lots of commotion, and the story of the mysterious night gardener begins. The fabulous illustrations show a community not very happy, until topiaries begin to appear each morning. There’s an owl, a cat upon which real cats lounge, and a fabulous dragon. People begin to smile, and to stay outside. I loved seeing the details of these happy people. William watches, wonders and makes a connection. You’ll need to read the book to see what that connection is. A happy ending of smiles makes this book a treasure.
The Bear and The Piano - David Litchfield
I am so in love. It’s another wonderful bear book! From the UK, it’s David Litchfield’s first picture book. A bear finds a piano in his forest, and it makes awful sounds, but he keeps returning, and growing, until he figures out that this “thing” can make beautiful music. The audience of bear friends love what he does, keep coming for more. One day, a young girl and her father discover this bear’s talent too, and his adventure begins. The transformation from forest to city, the wealth of popularity that happens, and the realization of what’s missing is shown in full-page illustrations. There is NYC, posters and headlines, plenty of full audiences and encores, and the bear sitting on a rooftop, reflecting on his life. The expressions on each face is delightful, and the ending makes this magical story perfect.
Next: I'm reading The Lake House Kate Morton for my next book group meeting!