While in the process of reading “The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary,” a novel in verse about a class of fifth graders, students in Mrs. Lucas’ English class got a chance to ask questions of the author, Laura Shovan.
From her home in Maryland, Shovan discussed over Zoom about how she went from being a writer of poetry to a novelist with her debut, “The Last Fifth Grade.”
“I started with 30 poems, one from the perspective of each character in the fictional class,” she said. “I was encouraged to make it longer so I ended up with 180 poems and it took six years to write.”
Mrs. Lucas hopes to instill in her students an appreciation for the writing process and how writing a poem or a story is not a simple process. Hearing from published authors that it often takes a year or more to write a single draft can often be insightful and humbling for students. It can even make them grateful that many of their classroom pieces are drafted once or twice, depending on the purpose of the particular assignment.
Responding to student questions, Shovan went on to describe her process for giving life to her characters.
“‘Hannah’ started as a mean kid and nothing more but my editor suggested I give the character more dimension and soften her edges,” she said. “You find out through her poems that Hannah’s mom is deployed in the Army, and the stress makes Hannah lash out at people sometimes.”
She also shared why rhyming poetry has special challenges and how she uses a rhyming dictionary to help her make the words work with the story. She also reminded students that while rhyming can be fun and add a certain sound or rhythm to a poem, it can also be limiting if a poet gets caught up with finding the perfect rhyme rather than perfecting the idea or voice in a poem.
“The Last Fifth Grade” is called “a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.” Shovan is also the author of “Take Down” and “A Place at the Table.”
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.