Spinning Through the Universe

Spinning Through the Universe

by Helen Frost

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Engrossing tales from the fifth grade

Every child is like
A little world with ever-changing weather,
Nights and mornings. And somehow, here we are,
Spinning through the universe together.

Unforgettable students in this fifth-grade classroom reveal their private feelings about birth and death, a missing bicycle and a

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Engrossing tales from the fifth grade

Every child is like
A little world with ever-changing weather,
Nights and mornings. And somehow, here we are,
Spinning through the universe together.

Unforgettable students in this fifth-grade classroom reveal their private feelings about birth and death, a missing bicycle and a first kiss, as well as their thoughts about recess, report cards, fitting in, and family.

Using a rich array of traditional poetic forms, such as sonnets, sestinas, and acrostics, Helen Frost interweaves the stories of the kids in Room 214 and their teacher. A final section giving detailed analyses of the twenty-two forms will be of special interest.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this collection of brief, deceptively casual poetic monologues, Frost (Keesha's House) brings to life the voices and spirit of a fifth-grade classroom as she spotlights each member of room 214. Themes such as the disappearance of Jon's bike ("Without my bike, my legs are empty. It/ has tricks you have to know to ride it right") and newcomer Shawna's struggle to fit in are replayed from different viewpoints, allowing readers a glimpse of characters' internal conflicts and relationships. Cast slightly apart from her classmates is artistic Naomi, whose haikus about nature ("What's that squirrel doing?/ Naomi, pay attention!/ Nose twitch-tail swish-gone...") provide effective transitions between subjects and moods. Like Naomi, Mrs. Williams, the teacher, remains on the sidelines, wistfully observing her students. While jealousies, rifts and misunderstandings among classmates abound, the fifth-graders' ability to unite is poignantly conveyed after one student's father is killed. In a detailed afterword, Frost explains the exact poetic forms used in each entry (in Part I, anything from sestina to rondelet, in Part II, an acrostic whose "armature" is a phrase uttered by the same speaker in Part I). Readers may be surprised at the complexity of rules governing the writing, so naturally does the author seem to capture the poetic essence of the children's voices-and she makes it look like so much fun that readers may want to try out some of the forms themselves. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Like Keesha's House before it, this story is told in a series of compelling poems that fully introduce an array of characters and move the story along. The stories of the children and their teacher, Mrs. Williams, in Room 214 show how full of possibility the world is for them despite the setbacks they face. Mrs. Williams looks to the future for each of them and tries to do everything she can to make the year with her one that will move them positively toward that future. Frost's ability with the forms of poetry is remarkable and each poem's internal structure is revealed in the back matter. Incredibly, the poems in Part 2 use something significant about each child in an acrostic. This reminds the reader of the child and his/her story and informs the poem. This is a wonderful book that breaks new ground in poetry as well as in the novel form. 2004, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 10 to 14.
—Joan Kindig, Ph.D.
There is a lot going on with the fifth graders and their teacher inside Room 214. Mrs. Williams begins by wondering what several of her students are thinking and feeling as they study explorers and look at the fall leaves, carefully saved in waxed paper and taped on the windows. As the story unfolds in verse, readers learn about the students. Sam's family is living in his car. John carelessly left his bike, and it was stolen by Andrew, who took it to work on it because the squeaking was driving him crazy. As the poems progress, readers discover more about each person, realizing that things and people are not always as they seem. As in her Printz honor book, Keesha's House (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003/VOYA April 2003), Frost presents realistic problems in young people's lives in a gentle, almost tender fashion. She uses several forms of poetry that she explains in great detail in the final section of the book, adding a lesson to her poignant stories. It is clear that Frost has been a teacher because her poems truly capture the essence and pathos of a classroom full of unique young people. Although this book is about fifth graders, many readers will find someone that they know here, and the informative poetic structures chapter will make this book easy to include in classroom units. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 112p., $16. Ages 11 to 15.
—Lynn Evarts
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Mrs. Williams's fifth-grade students are studying explorers, but there is a lot more going on in their complicated young lives. The teacher observes: "Every child is like/A little world with ever-changing weather,/Nights and mornings. And somehow, here we are,/Spinning through the universe together." In fact, Sam and his family are sleeping in his uncle's car, Andrew has trouble paying attention in class but can make a bike out of parts, Richard's dog has died, and Laura's mom has breast cancer. In this short novel written in verse, each student speaks in a unique poetic voice whose form is explained in detail in a "Notes on Forms" section. Jaquanna, for example, is represented in pantoum; Jon, with blank verse; and Shawna, Kate, Rosa, Natalie, Crystal, Monique, and Asha in a crown of sonnets. All of the poems in the second part are acrostics, except for Naomi's haiku, and readers will enjoy decoding them to reveal an additional thought about each character. Interwoven dramatic stories and interesting poetic patterns give this book extra appeal. A boon for poetry classes.-Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"You have to really look at things," Naomi says, and that's what each fifth-grader does in this look at life from many points of view. Frost uses 22 poetic forms to give voice to the students in Mrs. Williams's class. A missing cat, a stolen bike, an abusive father, a mother with cancer, bullying, learning difficulties, a new baby, the death of a father, cheating, Little League-this is the constellation of concerns as teacher and students are, as Mrs. Williams says, "spinning through the universe together." Appropriate, original imagery and understated, natural voices make these poems sensitive and insightful. Since the students sometimes sound older than fifth-graders, the collection will appeal to readers and teachers in middle school and high school. The notes on how the form in each poem works are of particular value to teachers eager to guide students in their own poetry writing. (Fiction. 10+)

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.68(w) x 8.58(h) x 0.56(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

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