Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Biography of Malcolm X by Jessica Gunderson, illustrated by Seitu Hayde



When a picture-book length biography of Malcolm X is needed and the reader is a pre-teen or teen, teachers and librarians may want to have Gunderson and Hayden’s volume handy.  Gunderson has done an admirable job of summarizing the complex life of a complex hero and Hayden’s full-color illustrations in a mature neutral palette will no doubt further the accessibility of the text to developing readers who do not yet have the confidence or ability to visualize text independently.  While most teachers will prefer to make longer versions of X’s life story accessible via audio and film resources, when a shorter print text is needed, this one may come in handy. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Gunderson, Jessica.  Illustrated by Seitu Hayde.  A Biography of Malcolm X.   North Manakato: Capstone, 2011.  Print.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Programming Spotlight: Julius Caesar at the New Victory Theater




All three photos Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, directed by Devin Brain
The Acting Company
Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson


On Friday, several of us teachers at Belmont took the Leake and Watts group to see an abridged production of Julius Caesar at the New Victory Theater.  Mr. Villaronga worked with these students in ELA class to read through the classic.  I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who might want to see it on Sunday, but so I’ll  just say that it is an excellent choice for adolescents considering themes of power, friendship, betrayal and violence. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Programming Spotlight: Malcolm X & Julius Caesar


New Victory Teaching Artists Janet Onyenuchea and Chad Beckim pose with students after a pre-theater workshop.  Photo credit: Jessica Fenster-Sparber


To get students ready to see X, Or Betty Shabazz vs. The Nation in repertory with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, placement advisory classes have been reading Myers’ Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary for the last two and a half weeks. Part of a larger interdisciplinary collaboration with Social Studies and Art teachers, and heavily supported by Belmont's speech and reading specialists, placement students at Belmont have approached the historical figure and his context with a variety of lenses.  Last Monday, songwriter Janet Onyenuchea and playwright Chad Beckim deepened the unit of study further when they visited Belmont to conduct pre-theater workshops with all placement groups in their roles as teaching artists with the New Victory Theater.  Chad and Janet engaged students’ growing base of knowledge of Malcolm X’s life and death and then invited students to create tableaux and portraying a variety of roles relating to the play they are rescheduled to attend at the end of the week.  We can’t wait! --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Monday, March 20, 2017

Random Family by Adrian Nicole Leblanc


Random Family follows the true life of Jessica, a young sixteen-year-old girl living in one of the poorest sections of the South Bronx during the Eighties. Jessica’s story is an eye-opener for anyone unfamiliar, and even for those familiar with the daily struggles of poverty. Leblanc does a phenomenal job immersing the reader in the challenges and life-altering decisions that the characters must make on a regular basis in order to survive the struggles of living in poverty. For this reader, Random Family is a painful read as I perceive the consequences of the choices the characters make.  It’s painful to watch how one often solves a problem by creating another problem due to the lack of opportunity and choices that are available.  This book is written for anyone reading at a high school level and above. Students who have read and liked Fist Stick Knife Gun will enjoy reading Random Family. --Claudio Leon


Click here for a reading group discussion guide from Simon and Schuster.  Click here for an interview with the author of Random Family ten years after it was published.

Leblanc, Adrian Nicole. Random Family. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ghost by Jason Reynolds


Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, has been running for the past three years, ever since the night he and his mother fled their home as Ghost’s father fired a gun at them.  But can a spot on a track team motivate him to run towards the future instead of from the past?  An impulsive and frequent fighter, Ghost must learn to face his problems head on, including himself, in order to envision an alternate future for himself.  With a relatable protagonist, this novel is best for middle-grades students looking for realistic fiction in an urban setting. --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Reynolds, Jason. Ghost. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. Print.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin



Two powerful essays couched in the form of two  letters, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is likely to be as gripping for incarcerated and detained young men of African descent born in America today as it was when it was originally published in 1963.  Baldwin’s brilliant sentences, precise language, masterful rhetoric, and deeply felt honesty shine like a multi-faceted gem in the 106 pages of this short volume.  For sophisticated readers who have read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow who are burning to read more and understand more but are not willing to tackle another long text (i.e. Dyson’s Making Malcolm or Manning’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention), give them this.  This text would make an excellent compare and contrast pairing with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Click here for the DPLA teaching guide to exploring The Fire Next Time in a classroom context.

Baldwin, James.  The Fire Next Time.  New York: Vintage International, 1991.  Print.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary by Walter Dean Myers


The story begins with a black man bleeding and being pulled from a police car with his hands cuffed behind his back on 123rd street in Harlem.  The year is 1957 and Myers draws the reader in immediately by describing the local community’s reaction and the emergence of the “formation of black men.  They were all dressed neatly with short haircuts, their arms folded before them.  Some wore dark glasses, many wore suits.  None of them were smiling. (3)”  Myers weaves a compelling narrative starting with Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam’s strategy for confronting police brutality in the late fifties and early sixties and then going back to the childhood and teen years of the child who would go on to courageously lead his followers, influence thinkers and activists around the world, and change the course of history in less than 200 pages.  Photographs of the subject and artifacts are sprinkled throughout.  Backmatter includes an index, photo credits, a bibliography, and a chronology which represents a double timeline; the left column of each page displays big events in American history beginning with the stock market crash in 1929, and the right column shows events in Malcolm’s life, beginning with his birth in 1925 and ending with three assassins’ sentencing in 1966.  A rich and timely work of narrative non-fiction. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Myers, Walter Dean.  Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary.  New York: Scholastic, 1993. Print.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly by Walter Dean Myers and Illustrated by Leonard Jenkins



There is much to love in this picture book biography featuring a condensed narrative which could easily interest a twelve or thirteen year old reader who is not yet familiar with the story of Malcolm X.  This text offers gorgeous, mature, full-color illustrations and emphasizes quotations from the subject on almost every page.  Malcolm’s words are woven into the narrative and set off from Myers’ text in bold block quotes.  This volume also features an unusual timeline as its only backmatter; unusual in that it covers the subject’s 39 years in twelve points and each point is accompanied by one or more quotes from Malcolm X. For example, the 1946 the text reads, “Malcolm is arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison.”  The accompanying quote reads, “ ‘I had gotten to the point where I was walking on my own coffin.  It’s a law of the rackets that every criminal expects to get caught.’” A helpful resource for scaffolding more sophisticated biographies of Malcolm X for tweens. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Myers, Walter Dean.  Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly.  New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Authors and Artists Series: Patricia McCormick visits Bronx Hope

Patricia McCormick visits Bronx Hope's school library.  Photo credit:  Allison Trevaskis

On Monday, February 13th, two-time National Book Award finalist, author, Patricia McCormick met with multiple groups of students at the Bronx Hope library.  The students impressed Ms. McCormick with their thoughtful questions about her books Never Fall Down, Sold, and I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World.

We are appreciative of Ms. McCormick for her unwavering support of all readers and writers across Passages Academy and her generosity of spending so much of her day with our readers. Thank you to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for making the day possible through their donation of books and the movie, Sold. --Allison Trevaskis

Monday, January 23, 2017

Programming Spotlight: Muhammad Ali at the New York Historical Society

George Kalinsky
Muhammad Ali training at Madison Square Garden, 1967
Chromogenic print from original scanned film
Courtesy George Kalinsky
Ali, who had a soft spot for children, took a break from a workout to banter with a young fan. Kalinsky recalled this young admirer announcing, “I am the greatest for a moment.”

Students residing in the three group homes visited the New York Historical Society this afternoon for a private tour of the two Muhammad Ali-themed exhibits currently on display.  Students learned about the timeline  of Ali's fights, watched historical footage of the athlete, activist and humanitarian, and examined photographs like the one above in a beautifully arranged gallery at the Manhattan institution.  Many thanks to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for providing the funding that made this trip possible, along with purchasing gift copies of The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers for all participating students.  The image above, by George Kalinsky, can be viewed at the museum as well as by clicking on the museum's website gallery here. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber