Thursday, June 9, 2016


Laura wrote a beautiful book
About the last 5th grade class at Emerson Elementary, 
Upheaval in their lives and school.
Rhythm and verse tell 18 students' stories of change, loss, and 
Activism that opened their hearts and minds.

See what I did there? An Acrostic poem.
Not a great one, I know. But when you read THE LAST FIFTH GRADE AT EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan, you'll see how acrostics and other cool forms of poetry are handled by a pro.

I got a chance to interview Laura recently about her incredible debut, and I have to admit, I fangirled all over it. This book, ya'll, is AMAZEBALLS.

Without further ado, let's hear from Laura Shovan:

Q: What was the creative process that led you to write in verse?

Laura: Although I write both prose and poetry, poetry is my first love. I began writing poetic monologues when I was a college student at NYU’s Dramatic Writing Program. Many of the stand-alone poems I’ve had published in literary magazines and small presses are spoken in the voice of an invented character, rather than in my own voice. I like the challenge of creating a character with a distinctive point of view within the small space of a poem. 

Q: Your book was released toward the end of the school year, a time of change in students' lives as they transition from the daily routine of school to summer. One major theme of your book is also change. How do books like yours help children navigate change?

Laura: One of my favorite things about being in a debut author group is reading ARCs. Middle grade books are about being in the middle, that time when kids have one foot firmly in childhood, but are also dipping their toes into adolescence. Many of this year’s middle grade debuts are about coping with changes in the main character’s family (COUNTING THYME and A DISTANCE TO HOME), friendships (THE BFF BUCKET LIST and MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS), or the larger world (LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY).

I wanted to create a story where a group of children facing the same change -- moving up
from elementary to middle school -- handled their transition in different ways. On one level, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is about navigating that change. On another level, it’s about building empathy for people whose reaction to change is different than our own. The reader may be excited, like the character Rajesh Rao, about being more independent in middle school. Or she may be like Rachel Chieko Stein, reluctant to leave the elementary school that’s become a second home. Both points of view are valid.

Q: Are any of the characters in LAST FIFTH GRADE autobiographical?
Laura: None of the individual characters are autobiographical, but some of the narrative threads are. There was a boy named Doug Mancini in my elementary school class who lost a parent to cancer. My mother made me invite Doug to the movies. I was mortified, convinced that my whole class would think I’d asked Doug out. I would only go to the movies with him if my mom let me bring a female friend along. Poor Doug -- I hardly said a word to him that day.

Q: The theme of activism was wonderful - a coming of age of new voices standing up for what they believe in. Was that always part of the goal of this book or did it evolve as your story grew?

Laura: The social justice storyline was a late addition. I’d been working with the characters for over four years, but struggling with the plot. I put the manuscript away for several months, then decided to try an idea I’d been toying with: What if there was a proposal to tear down their school? It all came together when I changed Ms. Hill’s character from a fresh-out-of-college first year teacher to a veteran educator who’d been active during the Civil Rights movement.

(Inserting myself here - I loved the Mrs. Hill character. She is subtle and fabulous and the kids obviously love her.)

Q: My son, who loved this book, wants to know - you have 18 characters in this story. How did you keep them all separate in your head as you wrote them?

Laura: Each time I revised the novel, I worked on one character at a time. I gathered all of the poems for one voice, and rewrote only those poems. I also had worksheets for each character about their likes, dislikes, things they did for fun, which neighborhood they lived in, and who their friends in the class were.

Q: My son also wants to know - how did you learn about the Fibonacci poems? Those and the concrete poems were his favorites.

Laura: I learned about Fibonacci poems from the source! Children’s author Greg Pincus gets credit for inventing the form. He and I are both Poetry Friday bloggers, which is how I learned about Fibs. (Greg’s website:
I found a Fib I’d forgotten about. I hope your son likes this one -- the title is part of the poem, as you’ll see!

Counting the
syllables. It’s a
math sequence you can observe in
nature’s spirals: shells, hurricanes, even galaxies.

(By Newt Mathews)

Thank you Laura!

But there's more .... because no book interview is complete without the chance to WIN a book!!

Click HERE to enter.

Laura Shovan's debut novel is The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, a middle grade novel in verse (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House). She is an award-winning poet, editor of two poetry anthologies, and a longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council.


  1. How interesting! I might have to check this one out! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading, Gabriella!
      Hope you do get a chance to check it out - it's SUCH a great book - I loved it.

  2. Thanks so much for joining the #16DABash!


  3. I love books written in verse. This one sounds great. It is not at my library yet though :(

    1. Hi! You can ask for it - most librarians I know love suggestions and it is SO great for the author to have those library requests.
      Thanks for reading!

  4. Thank you for this wonderful interview with Laura. I have been trying to find some time to purchase the book and read it because having 16 characters with voice seems so intriguing.

    1. Hi Carol - I hope you do get a chance to read it soon -- Laura really has done an outstanding job of distinguishing each character from the others. It's an easy read with all the good feels.
      Thanks for reading the blog!

  5. I'm curious about the use of poetry and the many characters in the book.