Dear Poetry Friday friends,

I have a Passover-themed post for you this week, with a poem, a recipe, and book recommendation, and a giveaway! But first, thanks to Matt Forrest Esenwine for hosting Poetry Friday this week. Head over to Matt’s blog, Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme for this week’s poetic links.

But first, happy 6th birthday to the fifth grade poets of Emerson Elementary. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary was published six years ago this week, right in the middle of National Poetry Month.

Look! Ms. Hill’s class has their party hats, balloons, and cake. To celebrate, I’m giving away six copies of the paperback on Twitter. Here’s the link to RT.

One of the poems in The Last Fifth Grade is about matzo, the unleavened bread we eat during the ten-day Passover festival.

Rachel (pictured top row, middle, as imagined by illustrator Abigail Halpin) writes about her discomfort at having to sit at the allergy-free table at school, how her friends pepper her with questions, and how sharing food (matzo candy) helps her classmates connect with her Jewish traditions.

As Jennifer Greene, the editor of my book A Place at the Table so wisely said, food is often a person’s first experience of a new culture.

Marvelous Matzo
By Rachel Chieko Stein

Passover is my favorite holiday.
I love matzo for lunch, spread thick
with cream cheese and strawberry jam.
I love how the matzo crunches
around the soft cream cheese
and gooey jelly.
I promised my dad I would eat
at the allergy- free table during Passover
even though people eat bread there
because the janitors
keep that table really clean.
But when I sit at the allergy- free table,
my friends think I am mad at them.
“Why aren’t you sitting with us?”
“Why do Jewish people eat weird food?”
“You have to eat that for a whole week?”
“Don’t you miss bread?”
I told my dad I wanted a thermos of soup
instead of a delicious matzo, cream cheese,
and jam sandwich for lunch.
He took out a recipe
covered with chocolate streaks.
“Aunt Jennie’s Matzo Candy.”
We buttered matzos, baked them
until they were hot, spread them
with chocolate and butterscotch chips.
Melting, crispy, buttery, sweet. Mmmm.
Dad said, “I think this is the right medicine.
See the bottom of Aunt Jennie’s recipe . . .?
To stop teasing, administer
one dose to classmates.”
I didn’t see anything written on the recipe.
But when I shared Aunt Jennie’s candy at lunch,
no one said matzo was weird.

This poem refers to an actual, beloved recipe handed down to me by my friend Jennie Steinhauser. You may see other versions of it online, where it’s often called “Matzo Crack.” (Here’s one to try.)

“Aunt” Jennie’s Matzo Candy (Serves 1)

1 c. sugar
1 c. butter
6 oz. chocolate chips
6 oz. peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt butter, add sugar, and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes. Stir. Pour over matzos on foil-covered cookie sheets. Bake 7 minutes (or maybe less). Take out and pour on peanut butter chips. Let set 30 seconds and spread. Repeat with chocolate chips. Stick in the fridge for 30 minutes, then break into pieces. Eat a whole bunch. Like on the couch. Eat some more.

You can see why we all love Jennie!

Add it to your Haggadah collection! Available here.

This year, we’re trying something new at our family Seder (the Passover meal, where we–short version–retell the story of Exodus, share prayers, sing, and eat special foods like matzo). Instead of our usual Haggadah, we are using the Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel.

It’s Thursday as I write this post. I’ll be making Jennie’s Matzo Candy this afternoon, along with charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, wine, and honey that represents the mortar Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh’s pyramids. But I digress — I hope to post Matzo Candy photos soon.

27 responses to “Happy 6th Birthday to The Last Fifth Grade!”

  1. […] to my friend, author/poet Laura Shovan, who is celebrating the 6th anniversary of her middle grade novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of […]

  2. Wow, has it been 6 years already?? Congratulations! I’ve never had matzo, but I may need to give this treat a try!

  3. Mmmm…my mouth is watering as I read your post, Laura. I love “The Last Fifth Grade”. I have a picture of my daughter reading it when it first came out (when she was a 6th grader)…now she’s finishing high school! Happy Book-aversary!

  4. Linda Mitchell says:

    I love this poem! As my school has become more diverse…I see a greater need to learn about each other. I’m so glad you are writing and publishing. My students need you! You know for sure, I’ll be sharing this poem. I have ‘The Last Fifth Grade’ but I love a stand-out poem. Thanks for the words, Laura!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I agree, Linda. I had a wonderful experience in a food poem workshop with third graders a few years back. One girl wrote about Ramadan and foods her family ate for iftar. Since some classmates didn’t know about Ramadan, the poet and her friend shared about their tradition. It was beautiful!

  5. Mary Lee says:

    Happy Passover! I make this (affectionately called “Christmas Crack” by some who receive it in a bag along with my homemade peanut clusters) with a graham cracker base. So so SO good.

    So many happy memories of reading aloud Emerson Elementary and your visit to the DWE 5th graders!

  6. Linda says:

    Laura, The Last Fifth Grade is one of my favorites! My family is coming this weekend, and I’m going to try your recipe! Thank you!

  7. Rose Cappelli says:

    This post is makig me hungry! A special happy birthday to “The Last Fifth Grade,” a book I love.

  8. What a joy — “The Last 5th Grade”, but also knowing that you “touched eternity” in helping your students bring poetry to life. Thank you!

  9. Elisabeth says:

    Last 5th Grade is one of my favorite MG novels in verse! I think there is so much truth in your editor’s comment about food being an entry point for us to new cultures. Thanks for sharing this poem and your tradition (and recipe!) with us today.

  10. jama says:

    Happy 6th Birthday to the Last Fifth Grade!! I remember well when it first came out and how much I loved reading it — and I made a batch of that Matzoh Crack! How wonderful that so many readers have enjoyed the book over the years. Happy Passover!!

  11. I have attended many Passover meals at my neighbor’s and though I’m not Jewish, love the readings. My favorite food is the charoset with matzo. Such a joyful and thoughtful holiday.

  12. What a great reaction to being teased! I love this! The matzo candy sounds really good, but so does the cream cheese and jelly spread. When we first moved to Wisconsin we had friends/neighbors who were Jewish. It was a great experience learning about some of the Jewish traditions and trying new foods. Thanks for sharing Rachel’s poem and the recipe, Laura! Happy Passover!

  13. Happy Passover Laura, and thanks for sharing the crunchy matzo poem! I remember eating some of those crunchy matzo sandwiches in school along with all the funny looks… And Happy 6th B-day to all the fab poets in “Emerson Elementary” which I loved and still love reading ! ❤️

  14. Linda Baie says:

    Some of my students used to bring this in but only with chocolate. It is a delish treat, Laura. Happy Passover. I still have your book, re-read it once but already several years ago. I love it because “your” fifth grade represents so many “classes”. It is a wonderful thing to learn about them & see them work together, what all classes do (or can do).

  15. Happy book birthday and happy Passover! I love the poem–food and separate tables can bring up so many thoughts and feelings. I love that matzo candy turns the situation sweet.

  16. Karen Eastlund says:

    Laura: I’ve had a similar confection… who could complain? Thanks for sharing this poem and recipe, and have a wonderful Passover.

  17. Holy mackerel, I can’t believe it’s been 6 years! It seems like a good time to don my party hat and go in for a re-read. 😀 Happy passover!

  18. Denise Krebs says:

    Laura, a blessed Passover to you. And happy book birthday too.

    I bet that is a good idea:
    “To stop teasing, administer
    one dose to classmates.”
    I don’t have too much experience, but I love matzo soup. I’m sure I would love Aunt Jennie’s candy.

  19. I read this post with relish–6 years!–and before commenting I had to get up and fix a bowl of saltines, chocolate ice cream and peanut butter. It was as close as I could get in 60 seconds. I hope your Seder was graphically dramatic and lovely!

  20. A very happy birthday to your wonderful book, Laura. There’s nothing better than matzo smeared with butter. A simple, yet delicious snack. Cheers!

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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