Inside Out and Back Again,

Reader Challenge: Poetry for 5th Grade Girls’ Bookclub

Poetry for 5th Grade Book Club

I love getting book requests from readers. This one came in recently:

Hi There –
I read your blog, especially for inspiration when organizing my daughter’s book club meetings (I’m the host for seven 5th grade girls each month).

I was wondering if you ever discuss or read poetry with your kids and, if so, if you have any recommendations for me. I’d like to focus on poetry for our next book club meeting but am not sure how to go about doing it – whether we should read/discuss a few poems together? or if each girl should bring a poem to share?

Anyway, if you have any advice or resources that you could share, I’d be so appreciative. And, if you don’t, that’s OK too!

Thanks a lot for your time.

I try to respond more quickly than I can post, so I offered up these ideas:

Novels in Verse is a pretty comprehensive post from Read in a Single Sitting of all the novels in verse we could both think of.

The reason why I thought of Novels in Verse as opposed to straight up poetry is that my daughter’s 5th grade book club did not seem to gravitate towards poetry with the exception of Jack Prelutsky. Perhaps it is because our book club is a drop-off book club rather than a supervised Mother Daughter book club, but our girls do not spend very much time discussing the book club selection.

I thought a Novel in Verse would be a good way to demonstrate that poetry can tell a story. It’s accessible rather than mysteriously confusing.

For specific book choices, I came up with four.

1) Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech but might be a tad easy for 5th grade so just depends on how much your girls like to read. I think this also has great discussion points that all kids can relate to: the death of a beloved pet, and the irritating pet next door. Sharon Creech has two other great novels in verse as well, Love That Dog and Heartbeat.

2) Call Me Maria:  A novel in letters, poems and prose by Judith Ortiz Cofer

I really love this book that’s UNIQUE! It’s a novel with letters, poems and prose first of all. I find that combination really interesting because there is something for everyone. This is also an immigrant story of a young girl grappling with her parents divorce. One parent stays behind in Puerto Rico and she emigrates to the United States to see her father. So there is another layer, or even two. Immigrant. Divorce.

But there’s even more. Maria has to learn English and, in learning English, it  is, at first a struggle, but ultimately it opens doors. And she’s writing poetry in English, her second language.

There’s another interesting spin on the immigrant story. Her mother, an English teacher, who stays behind is actually living a better life than her immigrant father who lives in a barrio in New York and works as a janitor. Strong female characters. I like that.

Finally, this is the story of the author herself. Not quite biographical but a story that rings very true.

You could easily pair with Puerto Rican food to make this book club a full body experience.

3) I finally read Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a recent Newbery Honor book. It’s another powerful immigrant story of a Vietnamese family. The lead character is a 10-year-old girl named HÀ and she’s incredibly memorable. If this were made into a movie, she’d steal very scene. It’s a powerful, nuanced, realistic and ultimately uplifting story that truly reflects the Vietnamese experience. I highly recommend it. My 6th grader, Music Lovers,  read it and also recommends it.

And the snack is easy! Vietnamese take out or simply papayas with lime.

No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

3) May B  by Caroline Starr Rose just came out and this is the author’s blog.   It’s a mid western survival story  that is also a novel in verse.

I’ve known it since last night:
It’s been too long to expect them to return.
Something’s happened.
May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose’s fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

I won a copy and it’s on my pile to read so I will update when I finish it.

 To view any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Alison

    Ahh…the difference between a drop-off book club and one moderated by a mom (me) is what prompted me to overthink this one in my original question. I loved your response and we had already read “Inside Out & Back Again,” so I focused on poetry-poetry.

    We talked briefly about poetry types and conventions and then read different types of poems, including “Young Poets” by Nicanor Parra to start us off and this one by Robert Frost:
    > Fire and Ice
    > Some
    > say the world will end in fire,
    > Some say in ice.
    > From what I’ve tasted of desire
    > I hold with those who favor fire.
    > But if it had to perish twice,
    > I think I know enough of hate
    > To say that for destruction ice
    > Is also great
    > And would suffice.
    > We also read a Shakespeare sonnet and “The Windhover” by Gerald Manley Hopkins. The girls also read poems that they have found and enjoyed. I had planned to do a Jack Prelutsky writing exercise too, but we ran out of time.

    It was interesting to see what they reacted to – the Hopkins sonnet was over their heads, but I thought it was interesting to read it anyway (one girl read it aloud and another read the “summary in real words”). The Robert Frost poem was great because they had a lot of interpretations and there’s a lot of fodder for discussion – e.g. how will the world end? what’s the worst form of hating?

    OK, that sounds pretty dark! In general, book club is a happy place!

    • To Alison,
      Wow! Sounds like a great book club with real content! And you got the girls engaged! I have trouble with that! Thanks for sharing your poetry picks and I’m sorry I wasn’t ore help!

      I think you are giving me courage to try this for my 6th grade book club for next year when they will be in 7th grade. What would you replace the Hopkins sonnet with? Or is two poems plus a Prelutsky writing exercise enough? What poem of Prelutsky’s would you use for inspiration? I loved your Robert Frost pick!

      Thank you! I will try to bone up on poetry so I can be more helpful in the future!

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