When this school year ends,
I will have spent
one thousand days
in this building.
I want a thousand more
so I’ll never have to say
goodbye to friends.
From “First Day” by Rachel Chieko Stein
Eighteen narrators, from diverse backgrounds and experiences, tell the story of their final year at elementary school before moving up to middle school. Their final year also corresponds to the last year of Emerson Elementary itself. The school is scheduled to be demolished to build a supermarket in their food insecure neighborhood.
The fifth grade has been asked by their teacher, Ms. Hill, to write poems for a time capsule to be incorporated into the new building project. The poems in various forms reveal the distinctly personal stories of each student and the classroom dynamics. As the year unfolds, students find their voices by organizing and protesting the demolition of their beloved school.
Of all the candidates for this year’s award for poetry, the committee found The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary to be the most appealing in its diversity, its capturing of the emotional lives of children on the brink of adolescence, and its poetic acrobatics. Laura Shovan’s writing is masterful. Readers will find themselves reflected in the experiences of the fifth graders. A thumbnail illustration of each character accompanies the poem helping the reader further identify the character. An introduction to poetry and poetic forms at the end completes the package.