Monday, September 29, 2014

Who Am I Without Him? Short Stories About Girls and the Boys in Their Lives by Sharon G. Flake

Engaging short stories written in African American voices for teens are always in demand and not always easy to find.  Enter Sharon G. Flake, author of The Skin I’m In and Money Hungry, with this collection geared toward girls, originally suggested to me by my colleague Chrystal Stewart.  While this book makes for an enjoyable read from start to finish, three stories recommend themselves to ELA faculty.  “Don’t Be Disrespecting Me,”  one of the collection’s few stories written with third-person narration, would serve as an accessible lesson on characterization and offers a good match with a Venn diagram or other compare and contrast  graphic organizers. This tale meaningfully contrasts two teen males, Erin and Noodles, who are friends striving to make it through high school in the face of poverty and who approach their frustrations differently.  Another stand-out is the last story, written in epistolary form and entitled “A Letter to My Daughter.”  Articulated in the voice of an absent father returned from prison after a decade or so, the narrator speaks to his daughter from a distance about her experiences becoming a young woman.  Full of admonitions, this story pairs interestingly with Lupe Mendez’s “What Should Run in the Mind of Caballeros” and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” for students learning to think critically about voice, form, and purpose.  Chrystal additionally favors the collection’s first story, “So I Ain’t No Good Girl.” This book works well as an independent read for middle school and younger high school girls, but the true beauty of a collection like this one is that students are likely to become motivated to read it on their own after reading one or two of its stories with an engaging teacher. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Flake, Sharon G.  Who Am I Without Him?  New York: Jump at the Sun, 2007.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell


Sanger Rainsford is a celebrated hunter from New York City.  He travels the world in search of big game.  When he falls off a yacht in the middle of the Caribbean, he swims for the closest shore and discovers a single palatial home built on an unfamiliar island surrounded by craggy rocks.  He is given sanctuary by the home’s singular owner, General Zaroff, who recognizes him immediately and invites him to rest and dine with him.  Over a glass of port, the two men discuss their shared hobby of hunting and the question of “what is the most dangerous game?”  This well-loved short story is useful for teaching setting, character, conflict and foreshadowing, and this edition may interest teachers because it is an unabridged short story bound into a single volume.  Interesting language abounds and readers who persevere through the start of the story are likely to be hooked by page 16.  Offering a great deal of white space, a four-page analysis of the story, and another four pages of back matter dedicated to the author’s biography, including images, this series is packaged for English teachers. The design and layout of the text can be viewed here.  Lesson plan ideas for teaching this classic text from ELA Common Core Lesson Plans can be viewed here.  Currently available at our Belmont site.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Connell, Richard.  The Most Dangerous Game.  Mankato: Creative Education, 2011.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream

The journey to become a doctor is not an easy path for anyone, let alone for a young person growing up in a crime-ridden neighborhood surrounded by negative influences. Yet three best friends facing those exact challenges succeeded in obtaining medical degrees. How?

Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt met as students in Newark, New Jersey. Told in alternating voices in each chapter, each of the three shares his story with the reader from childhood to the present (as of 2002, the time of publication). While each man has a different story to tell (one was arrested and spent time in juvenile detention, another managed to stay out of fights and avoid conflict throughout his childhood), the common thread is that they worked incredibly hard throughout high school, college and medical school to get to where they are now. Each reached points where he felt he might give up -- whether it was problems in his family, academic failure, financial hardships or just plain stress, and his friends were there to support him and encourage him to get back on track. This message is an important one for our students. Young people are frequently lectured on the negative effects of peer pressure and how destructive it can be to “hang out with the wrong crowd.” This memoir sheds light on the flip side of that pressure, and the opportunities that come from surrounding oneself with positive thinkers and ambitious, hard-working friends.  --Anja Kennedy

Davis, Sampson, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt.  The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream.  New York: Penguin.  2002.  Print.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jon Scieszka Presents Guys Write for Guys Read


Bizarre sports initiation rituals, dating, fathers, brothers - the list of topics expounded on in this nonfiction collection goes on and on.  Written by men, for young men, the all-star lineup of authors and illustrators includes Walter Dean Myers, Chris Crutcher, Jack Prelutsky, Ned Vizzini, Marc Aronson, Dave Pilkey, and Jack Gantos, and Matt Groening, to name a few.  Each of the ninety short biographical stories weigh in at two pages or less, making them a good fit for classroom use.  With the wide range of topics and styles offered, Guys Write for Guys Read is a versatile tool for teachers and librarians.  Particular stories recommended by my English teaching colleague include Walter Dean Myers’ “Daydreams,” Will Weaver’s “Training the Bear,” and David Shannon’s “No, David!”  Each selection includes biographical information about the author and a short selected bibliography. --Regan Schwartz

Scieszka, Jon, ed. Guys Write for Guys Read. New York: Viking, 2008. Print.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sudden Fiction Latino: Short Short stories from the United States and Latin America



For Passages Academy it seems that Latino History Month and our ELA short story curricular unit are destined to occur at the same time each Fall. Thus, teachers seeking extremely short fiction, totalling about four pages or less, and stories with a connection to Latino/a history, may be interested in this volume.  Although many of the stories will not appeal to reluctant adolescent readers, short pieces by literary greats like Rudolfo Anaya (“The Native Lawyer”) and Gabriel Garica Marquez (“Light is Like Water”), may serve as a worthy introduction to these canonical authors.   “Day Ah Dallas Mare Toes,” by Luna Calderon, and “Counterfeit,” by Edmundo Paz Soldan, on the other hand, have a charm all their own and might just provoke meaningful discussion on themes of truth, deceit, family, and death and the role of names in literary texts and life.  This link from the publisher allows readers to view the entire table of contents, some of which are hyperlinked to permit previews of the text.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber


Shapard, James Thomas and Ray Gonzalez (Eds.)  Sudden Latino Fiction:  Short-short stories form the United States and Latin America.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Above Hallowed Ground: A photographic record of September 11, 2001 by photographers of the New York Police Department



For young people who were not born yet or may have been newly born, and for older readers who want to remember or enrich their memory, Above Hallowed Ground is a serviceable pictorial which begins with crisp NYPD photographs of September 11th, 2001 and ends with the site of Ground Zero, cleared in April, 2002.  This coffee-table sized volume is punctuated by images of details and memorials and well-captioned throughout.  An introduction paints the event in the most dramatic of terms and leaves the full-color images to tell the rest of the story.  A useful text to visit during a national day of remembrance. For additional topical texts reviewed in this blog, readers may want to view The 9/11 Report and One Nation --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Interview Spotlight: Principal Terrell


Welcome back!  I hope you had a wonderful summer.  I’m excited to start the new year and this new year has brought a new principal at Passages.  Ms. Terrell joined us last week and graciously took a few moments out of her extraordinarily busy schedule to give us a short interview so that we could introduce her to you.  Without further ado, please meet Ms. Avis Terrell.  


JFS:  Can you tell us a little bit about what you were doing before taking the helm at Passages?*


AT: Before Passages, I was the principal of an all boys school, Urban Assembly Academy of History and Citizenship for Young men (UAAHC), located inside the Taft Campus.


JFS: What is your favorite kind of text to read?  Where is your favorite place to read?


AT:   My favorite kind of text is fiction, books that create complex, real characters. My favorite place to read is in the bathroom (lol). Sometimes it is the only place that I can get some peace.


JFS: What was your favorite book as a teenager?


AT:  My favorite book as a teenager…..there were so many! A Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and anything by Toni Morrison but my all time favorite is Song of Solomon.


JFS:  What do you like to do for fun when you're not reading?


AT:  When I’m not reading, I like to watch sports (except golf) and spend time with my children.


*Please note that the questions were shamelessly borrowed from my colleague, Regan Schwartz.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer Break

Dear Readers,

Happy summer!  We will continue to provide school library services this summer, but we'll be taking a break from posting until the start of the new school year.  We wish you a wonderful summer full of good reads.

See you in September,

Anja, Regan, Claudio and Jessica

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pinned by Sharon Flake



Autumn is the only girl on her high school wrestling team, and she’s good.   A younger boy, Roland, would like to get to know her better, but Autumn only has eyes for Adonis.  In fact, Autumn is in love with Adonis, a fellow student who manages her wrestling team when he’s not teaching her math class, volunteering to tutor and mentor other students, taking visiting dignitaries on tours of his school, and speaking at school assemblies.  Adonis, however, disdains “regular” people who are not differently-abled (as he is in his wheelchair), and he cannot stand the way Autumn flails in academics,  nor her relentless pursual of him.  Will Autumn graduate on time, succeed in the face of mean wrestling opponents, and win Adonis’ heart?  This novel in two voices (chapters alternate between Adonis and Autumn’s different perspectives and voices) explore differences in abilities and becomes heavy-handed, at times, but will still appeal to fans of Flake and developing middle school readers looking for a bit of a love story.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Flake, Sharon.  Pinned.  New York: Scholastic Press, 2012.  Print.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football's Make-or-Break Moment by Carla Killough McClafferty



From the early days of brute force football to the contemporary high-flying dynasties, Fourth Down and Inches provides readers with a concise history of the American pastime and brings awareness to the dangers of the sport. The book begins with a detailed history of the origins of college football, mentioning some of the oldest team feuds and how they originated, along with the rising popularity of the sport.  Each chapter discusses  injuries and fatalities that happened in the field and the gradual progress made towards identifying and treating concussions.  As the book moves through the years, the focus shifts to the prevention of fatalities and minimization of injuries at both the college and professional level. Although the book provides many medical terms and details the high tech equipment used to keep players healthy, it never overwhelms or confuses.

Fourth Down and Inches is filled with old and new pictures of teams, athletes and past games. The diagrams are colorfully detailed and help explain some of the equipment the athletes use and the medical analysis done to help make sure football becomes a safer sport. For those looking to learn more about football and its wonderfully dangerous history, Fourth Down and Inches is a great read.--Claudio Leon

McClafferty, Carla Killough.  First Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment. Minnesota: Carolrhonda Books, 2013. Print.