Cover image for Spinning through the universe : a novel in poems from room 214
Spinning through the universe : a novel in poems from room 214
Frost, Helen, 1949-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, [2004]

Physical Description:
ix, 93 pages ; 21 cm
A collection of poems written in the voices of Mrs. Williams of room 214, her students, and a custodian about their interactions with each other, their families, and the world around them. Includes notes on the poetic forms represented.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 3.5 1.0 80292.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Author Helen Frost was born in Brookings, South Dakota in 1949. She received a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education with an English concentration from Syracuse University and a Masters degree in English from Indiana University. She has taught writing from pre-school through university and has published poetry, children's books, anthologies, a play, and a book about teaching writing.

Skin of a Fish, Bones of a Bird, a collection of poetry, won the Women Poets Series Competition in 1993. Poems from that collection were awarded the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award and the Mary Carolyn Davies Memorial Award by the Poetry Society of America. She worked with the Fort Wayne YWCA and the Fort Wayne Youtheatre to help high school students write about how they had been affected by violence. This workshop led to a play and an anthology of student writing, both entitled Why Darkness Seems So Light. Keesha's House was awarded a Michael L. Printz Honor from the American Library Association in 2004.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-7. In a series of poems, first a fifth-grade teacher and then the students in her classroom talk about their lives at school and at home. A long final section analyzes the 22 poetic forms Frost has used, from sonnets and haiku to the lesser-known pantoun, tanka, and tercelle, with intricate details about their rhyme, meter, and repetition patterns. Most readers, however, will be more interested in the stories the poetry tells. The vignettes aren't as closely connected as they were in Frost's Keesha's House, a 2004 Printz Honor Book. Here the poems provide a glimpse of a greater diversity of characters. Richard mourns for his dog (My ears are empty from the / Noises Pepperoni doesn't make ). Jack attacks stereotypes about his Indian people (Pinch me. I'm not / extinct, like a dinosaur ). Some pieces are connected, as in the series of sonnets It's Hard to Fit In, and some voices come back and surprise the reader, as when the bully Natalie reveals her humanity. In the best pieces, the rigorous form intensifies the feelings. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Mrs. WilliamsNaomiVondaSamJonAndrewNaomiRyanRichardRyanManuelJaquannaLauraNaomiNaomiAntoineBenDustinJackSharrellMariaEddieMatthewVeronicaMr. CarlsonNaomiMrs. WilliamsNatalieMoniqueShawnaNaomiSamChrystalAndrewLauraSharrellMariaNaomiManuelBenDustinKateMatthewVondaRichardNaomiAntoineRosaRyanAshaJaquannaNaomiEddieVeronicaJackJonMrs. Williams
Part 1 Great Explorers
Great Explorers, Room 214p. 3
Sunlight, orange leavesp. 5
Grandma Keeps Forgettingp. 6
Late Againp. 7
Without My Bikep. 8
Make a Few Adjustmentsp. 9
Black/orange flowerp. 11
Sukip. 12
Pepperoni Was My Dogp. 13
Sukip. 14
One Small Kittenp. 15
Who, Me?p. 16
Her Thick Black Hairp. 17
Dark branches, blue skyp. 18
It's Hard to Fit Inp. 19
What's that squirrel doing?p. 26
Recessp. 27
Tenp. 28
Bottom Linep. 29
My Peoplep. 30
Friendp. 31
The Truthp. 32
Just Tryp. 33
The Bluebird Zoop. 34
Out in the Hallp. 35
Room 214, 11 p.m.p. 36
Part 2 Elm Trees
Ice covers each branchp. 41
Elm Treesp. 42
Cryingp. 43
Wafflesp. 44
Perfectp. 45
Oh--a woodpecker--p. 46
At the Shelterp. 47
In the Middlep. 49
The Answerp. 50
Every Dayp. 51
We Showed My Momp. 52
Fathers Can Learnp. 53
Two robins nestingp. 54
Birthday Candlesp. 55
Little Leaguep. 57
Honor Rollp. 58
Hard Problemp. 59
Birdsp. 60
Boysp. 61
Girlsp. 62
Whispering About the Teacherp. 63
Brothersp. 64
Familiesp. 66
Jobs My Mom Could Dop. 67
Learning to Drawp. 68
Falcon Soaring High Abovep. 69
Green and goldp. 71
Does She Know?p. 72
One Simple Questionp. 73
River Animalsp. 74
Explorersp. 75
Spinning Through the Universep. 76
Notes on Formsp. 81
Acknowledgmentsp. 93