Wendy Lamb Books/Random House
Rating: 5 stars
This is my favorite middle grade that I've read in a very long time. If I were on the Newbery team, I'd choose this one.
Laura Shovan has written an intriguing, quirky, thought-provoking story, and delivered it in the most impressive way: she's written it in verse. List, narrative, odes, raps, rhyming, senryu, free verse, haiku, acrostic are just a few of the poem forms she uses. But wait, it gets better: the book is not one long poem. That'd be neat, but to get the feel of all the unique voices that make up Emerson Elementary's fifth grade, she gives each student his or her own distinct type of poem.
Really, I'm not sure writing gets more creative than this.
The problem: Emerson Elementary is closing. The building is being razed and a huge grocery store will replace it. The students' reaction to this fact is very realistic: Some are alarmed and angry, determined to change the fate of their school. These are the young activists, some earning their parents' support, some doing it behind their parents' and teachers' backs. Some students are apathetic about the demolition. Still others are eager for the demolition because they want a new beginning (and they're pleased with their previous years in school being buried underneath the rubble). The students document all of these feelings in poems which are to be placed in a time capsule and buried somewhere in the grocery store's foundation.
WHAT I MISSEDby Edgar Lee Jones
I missed the sit-in at the Board.I missed the waiting, being ignored.I missed it when we lost our fight,and Emerson was sold that night.I missed it all. I wasn't there.I spent all night in my hospital chairvisiting Grandpa with my dad.I miss his smile. He looks real bad.
As you can see in the poem above, in addition to this main plot, the students are concerned about stuff in their own lives--about grandparents dying, questions of identity, trying to figure out how to dress in a "cool" way, how a boy feels when his dad leaves his mom, who to be friends with, whether or not a girl wants the attention of a boy...things of this nature. Shaven does a stellar job remembering how big these issues are to middle school children; I love the way she respects the students emotions and concerns and complaints without looking down on them in a "it's not a big deal" way we grown-ups often do.
LEFT OUTby Rajesh Rao
Edgar was my friend.We shared a seat on the bus,played chess at recess.
Now he's always with George Furst,working on secret projects.
This is an excellent, excellent book for teachers to know about and read with their class. The over-arching story and individual students' stories are ripe for discussion!
I confess that I listened to the audiobook version, and I think that made me love it even more--usually only one person reads an audiobook, but in this one each student got his or her own reader, making the voices and poems stand apart from each other that much more. It was incredibly well done, and made me wonder if teachers would ever press play for a book such as this one instead of reading aloud to their classes...? I always favor human over electronic, but this audiobook is an exception.
I found this book on a list at the School Library Journal's entitled "Choice Chapter Book Read-Alouds." There are some other great books on the list. Click HERE to check them out.