Today we’d like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Laura Shovanon the official release of her first middle grade verse novel on April 12! Hooray for Laura!!
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Wendy Lamb Books, 2016)is a captivating story told entirely through a series of poems written by one fifth grade class over the course of a year. We meet 18 diverse, distinctive, quirky, totally believable kids navigating the changes that come with friendships old and new, first crushes, and other relatable challenges such as divorce and stepfamilies, death and illness of family members, being the new kid, homelessness, assimilation and identity.
Though each has his/her own hopes, dreams, and concerns, these students form a special bond over one big change that affects them all: their beloved school is facing closure at the end of the year. Inspired by their teacher’s political activism in the 60’s, they are determined to make their voices heard to help save Emerson.
Back in my salad days, I crushed on Will Shakespeare. In high school I swooned over Romeo, in college I hissed at Iago’s villainous schemes, and as a starry-eyed rookie teacher did my best to convince my students that when it came to reading and studying the Bard of Avon, their labours of love were never lost.
I wish there had been a book like Will’s Words (Charlesbridge, 2016) to share with them then. The naysayers who struggled with and questioned the practical value of Shakespeare’s seemingly antiquated language could have seen (much to their amazement), how Will’s words weren’t so archaic or esoteric after all. In fact, many phrases have since become household words, regularly popping up in modern everyday speech. I like to think Will Shakespeare has made poets of us all.
Author Jane Sutcliffe begins by confessing to the reader that she fully intended to write a book, in her own words, about the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare’s wordsmithing and storytelling genius in penning “the most brilliant and moving plays ever written.” But aye, there’s the rub: no matter how hard she tried, Shakespeare’s words kept bumping into hers — they were simply everywhere and impossible to ignore. So she did the next best thing: wrote a marvelous book cleverly incorporating Will’s colorful turns of phrase in her narrative. As an added treat — since when it comes to Will’s words it’s impossible to have too much of a good thing — she explains what his phrases mean and cites the plays in which they appear.
She pretty much had me at “each tweet poking/a tiny hole/through the edge of winter,” and I continued to swoon as I carefully made my way through the entire book, which features about a dozen enchanting poems for each season, presented as dated entries in a nature journal, beginning and ending with March 20, the Spring equinox.
These spare and lyrical free verse observations are told in an intimate, conversational voice, describing subtle and not-so-subtle seasonal changes with regard to wind, rain, earth, sky, and many green and colorful growing things. From a child’s perspective, small things can be everything, and if you stand or sit still long enough, wonder will reveal itself: flowers “lean and bend toward the light/wide open as if singing/their voices (silent but everywhere)/fill up the daytime/a song much more than purple/and beyond every red.”
Once upon a time, perhaps last week, or even last night, at your local dim sum restaurant there was an UGLY DUMPLING . . .
This ugly dumpling was ugly in its OWN ugly way.
Poor thing! Though the dumpling tried its best to be noticed by wrinkling its brow, standing up tall, or even wearing pleated pants, sadly it remained “uneaten and ignored.” But as fate would have it, along came a cockroach whose heart swelled with love, who wept upon seeing the ugly dumpling. It extended an arm (or a leg) in friendship, promising to show the dumpling “the beauty of the world.”
I enjoyed the story immensely, but I must confess it reminded me of my own tragic guinea pig experience (*shudder*). But more on that later.
This charming cautionary tale is about the time young Beatrix, who loved to draw and paint wild as well as tame animals, borrowed a guinea pig from her neighbor to use as a live model. She and her younger brother Bertram had lots of pets in the third floor playroom/science lab/art studio of their London home — pets such as snakes, snails, bats, ducks, rabbits, hedgehogs and salamanders. Though Beatrix loved all these creatures, we are warned early on that “she did not always have the best of luck with them.”
We are given evidence of several animal mishaps via journal entries that note an escaped snake and newts, a family of dead and dried up snails, and even a bat which was dismembered by a jay. And what of the unfortunate guinea pig? Beatrix especially loved painting animals doing “ordinary, everyday things, like reading the newspaper, working in the garden, or taking tea. (And why not?).” And the day came when Beatrix just had to paint a guinea pig and they didn’t have one at 2 Bolton Gardens. Not to worry, though, as quite a few of them apparently lived in Miss Paget’s parlor.