Thursday, December 11, 2014

Adventure Time Vol. 1 by Ryan North


A hapless snail has freed the evil Lich from his bag of holding and he is on a mission to destroy everyone and everything in the Land of Ooo.  It is up to Finn and his best friend Jake the magical dog, with the help of their friends, to defeat the Lich and save Ooo.  If you’ve never seen an episode of Adventure Time, the previous sentences may have sounded like gibberish, but fans of the popular television cartoon series will enjoy seeing it brought so faithfully to comic book form.  The art and dialogue are full of lively action, nonsense humor, and wordplay.  Adventure Time is a vibrant option for readers looking for humorous comics and offers a welcome entry point to the format for those turned off by mainstream superhero comics. --Regan Schwartz

Click here for an ELA lesson plan from Diamond Bookshelf.

North, Ryan. Adventure Time Vol. 1. Los Angeles: KaBoom!, 2013. Print.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How to Overthrow the Illuminati by Will, Chino, Saudade and Mamos


At least once a week I have a student ask for a book about the Illuminati, or I hear them intensely talking about the group’s existence.  For those students, the zine How to Overthrow the Illuminati is a good place to start looking at information about the group.  It is written in a format that won’t overwhelm them and the style of writing is accessible to most.  The authors clearly explain how the Illuminati theory came to be and how the belief in the power of the Illuminati moved from high socioeconomic circles to low income communities, specifically African American ones. Even if you don’t believe in conspiracy theories, the title provides a concise history lesson around factors that have contributed to the growth of the Illuminati theory.  The authors also encourage readers to do their own research by pointing out, “most of their [The Illuminati] secrets are actually ‘open secrets’: information is available in public libraries and websites…” School librarians might be as giddy as I am to use this text to teach research skills to students.

Some of the historical references in the zine will likely go over many students’ heads, but for some it may spark interest into other topics mentioned such as the Knights Templars, the Ku Klux Klan and maybe even Karl Marx.  There is a lot of information in this zine and for those that have been asking to learn about conspiracy theories, this could be a good place to start before moving on to actual conspiracies as it asks the reader to question and prod at the holes and gaps in many theories. --Claudio Leon


Monday, December 8, 2014

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon


Tariq, a sixteen-year-old African-American teen, goes to the store for his mother to buy some milk and picks up a Snickers bar for his little sister.  On his way home he is confronted by a neighbor who perceives that Tariq has a gun.  A third person, Jack Franklin, approaches, shoots, and kills Tariq and drives away.  Franklin is subsequently apprehended by the police and let go.  National activist and political figure Reverend Alabaster prepares to make his move into the spotlight while the nation is asking for answers and Tariq’s mother is asking for justice.  Sound familiar?  

Magoon’s polyphonous novel is thick with topical relevance and the challenges of multiple points of view.   It’s first few pages ensnare the reader within a web of suspense structurally furthered by short chapters.  Characters like Brick and Noodle, members of the local Kings 8-5 crew, will appeal to reluctant male readers and others like Jennica, Noodle’s girlfriend and witness at the crime scene; Kimberly, Tariq’s former babysitter-cum-professional stylist; and Tina, Tariq’s little sister, will appeal to female readers, making this a great text for mixed gender book clubs and class discussions. ELA teachers will find this a rich selection for teaching perspective, voice, and character development.  Highly recommended for fans of Walter Dean Myers’ Street Love.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber


Click here for a discussion guide from the publisher.


Magoon, Kekla.  How It Went Down.  New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2014.  Print.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Quicksand: HIV/AIDS In our lives by Anonymous



For a student who needs immediate answers, or a teacher looking for a slim volume to read through with students during a non-fiction ELA unit, Quicksand’s length and hybrid format offer an interesting option.  Opening with a first-person narrative, this quick read is eighty-five pages of large font with plenty of white space. Quicksand commences with a chapter entitled “Why I Wrote this Book: The Still Hidden World of HIV/AIDS in America” and uses subtitles like “What is AIDS?” and “How can you tell if someone has HIV?” to toggle between the anonymous author’s experience learning about her brother-in-law’s diagnosis and anticipating the reader’s questions.  The author keeps the text simple enough for a less-experienced, yet  proficient reader to comprehend the content, but the unique format will be best navigated with a knowledgeable guide for less-experienced readers, recommending this text to ELA teachers, social workers, and reading and ESL specialists.  Backmatter includes websites for more information about HIV/AIDS (essential for updated information since this book appears to have been written in 2008), a glossary for terms like “window period” and “viral load,” a narrated bibliography of works consulted, acknowledgements, and an index. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Anonymous.  Quicksand:  HIV/AIDS in our lives.  Fairfield: Candlewick Press, 2009.  Print.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Scholastic Ultimate Guide to Football by James Buckley Jr.


Scholastic Ultimate Guide to Football by James Buckley Jr.

Did you know that passing was not allowed in American football until 1906?  Taking an informal tone, Buckley’s Guide mixes history, random facts, statistics, photographs, and cartoonish drawings to provide an introduction to America’s most popular sport.  Assuming some prior knowledge of the game, the Guide alternates between informational pages on each of the National Football League’s 32 teams and features on football trivia like superstitious practices used by NFL players, regrettable quotes and actions from NFL coaches, classic referee signals currently in use, and touchdown heroes.  Each team’s two-page spread includes the year the team formed, a highlight and low point for the team, their home venue, number of Superbowls won, best seasons and additional team facts.  Backmatter includes a few additional print and web-based resources for information on American football and an index.  Teens may not appreciate Buckley’s corny jokes, but those with an interest in broadening the scope of their knowledge of the sport will be glad to have so much information in one lightweight volume. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Buckely Jr., James.  Scholastic Ultimate Guide to Football. Santa Barbara: Shoreline Publishing, 2010.  Print.

Click here for a link to Edutopia's lesson plans for a variety of subject areas incorporating American football.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why Are We Still Getting HIV? Teens Respond to the AIDS Epidemic Edited by Laura Longhine


35.3 million people are living with HIV around the world, according to UNAIDS, cited on HIVaware.org.uk.  35.3 million.  Asking anyone to contemplate the size of that number is a challenge, and Youth Communication’s Why Are We Still Getting HIV? offers numerous angles from which teachers, parents, and other youth workers (including peer educators) can approach the topic through interviews and personal narratives.  This collection includes both anonymous and credited teen authors’ perspectives on HIV, ranging from what it’s like to go for a first HIV test (“What If…” by Anonymous), to having a peer or adult share their positive status (“Saying Goodbye to Uncle Nick,” by Josbeth Lebron, “A Sad Silence,*” by Desiree Guery), to receiving notification of one’s own HIV positive status (“Date with Destiny” by Anonymous,) as well as dealing with a loved one dying from AIDS (My Uncle Died of AIDS” by Anonymous), and living a long life while HIV positive (“All Too Real: Teens Living with HIV*” by NYC Writers and “Twenty Years Living Positive” interview with Dave Nisbett.)  Back matter includes separate notes to teens and staff trainers as well as a discussion guide for teachers and staff on how to use the book effectively.  While the writing varies in style and tone, it is generally very accessible to teens who are reading proficiently and a worthwhile resource in spite of the fact that there have been some significant updates to the American conversation taking place around AIDS since many of these stories were written. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber


*These two stories are available for free in full-text and with lesson plans provided by YC Teen.


Longhine, Laura (Ed.)  Why Are We Still Getting HIV? Teens Respond to the AIDS Epidemic.  New York: Youth Communication, 2010.  Print.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, Illustrated by Caanan White


103 years ago African Americans in New York could not simply join up as soldiers in the Federal military. When African American men were finally able to establish an infantry unit, they had to do so within the disrespectful confines of segregation.  The Harlem Hellfighters is the story of Harlem’s highly-decorated trail-blazing unit as told by Max Brooks.  In his author’s note, Brooks explains his personal relationship to this lesser-known part of World War I history and his quest to bring it to light, first through a screenplay and now, here, as a graphic novel with detailed black and white illustrations by Caanan White.  More sophisticated readers will be better equipped to undertake the work of fitting together all of the pieces of the story and tracking characters.  The minimal text (usually less than five sentences per page), however, makes this a useful one for literacy instruction on comprehension strategies for older readers working with ELA teachers, reading specialists, or in pairs of peers. 

Here is a social studies lesson plan created by Thomas Malcolm for eighth graders in 1997.  It does not include Brooks' text, but may be of interest to educators nonetheless.  Here are documentary photographs of the Hellfighters, some of which Brooks includes in his backmatter.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber


Brooks, Max.  Illustrated by Caanan White.  The Harlem Hellfighters.  New York: Broadway Books, 2014. Print.

N.B. At the time of this writing, Passages' libraries do not yet own a copy of The Harlem Hellfighters.  The copy reviewed for this post was lent to us via the MyLibraryNYC pilot program.  Thank you, MyLibraryNYC! 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Volcano: Iceland’s Inferno and the Earth’s Most Active Volcanoes edited by Ellen J. Prager


There is little on earth to rival the sheer majesty and destruction of a volcano.  They are a fact of life for so many people (did you know that 1 in 12 people live in an active volcano zone?), yet  for many of our students they are only the stuff of history books and remote news reports.  Volcano brings their power, danger, and beauty to brilliant life on every page.  Beginning with an overview of the geology of volcanoes, the text is organized geographically, highlighting major volcanoes from each region.  The one-page history on each volcano is accompanied by a sidebar listing brief facts and pages of dynamic, full-color photographs with informative captions depicting both the volcano and the people living in its shadow.  Backmatter includes sources and credits.  While the text recommends the book to confident readers, the high-interest subject matter, photographs, and large-font quotes make it a popular choice for anyone interested in natural disasters.--Regan Schwartz

Prager, Ellen, ed. Volcano: Iceland’s Inferno and the Earth’s Most Active Volcanoes. Washington DC: National Geographic, 2010. Print.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Wolf Almanac by Robert H. Busch


Stunning photographs liberally illustrate The Wolf Almanac, a detailed and well-researched overview of all things wolf - from their biology and behavior to folklore, from big game hunting to zoos and conservation.  The text is a bit dense, but makes judicious use of maps, charts, and graphs to present scientific information and a thorough table of contents and index allow the reader to pinpoint the information they are looking for.  With a thorough bibliography and list of wolf conservation organizations rounding out the back matter, this title is ideally suited to student inquiry. --Regan Schwartz

Busch, Robert H. Wolf Almanac, New and Revised: A Celebration Of Wolves And Their World.  Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2007. Print.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

DC Comics: The Ultimate Character Guide


Can you tell the difference between The Green Lantern and The Green Arrow, or Mister Terrific and Mister Mxyzptlk?  You may be in need of DC Comics: The Ultimate Character Guide.  This handy volume is extremely popular at our Belmont site where teens and adults alike are eager to expand their DC comics lexicon.  Prefaced by the shortest of introductions and a table of contents, over 200 heroes and villains from “the DC Universe” are listed and then presented in alphabetical order, beginning with Adam Strange and ending with Zoom.  Each character or group receives its own page.  Layout consistently features the character’s name, a one to three sentence summary of the character, vital stats (real name, occupation, height, weight, base, allies and foes), and boxed text describing the character’s powers.  The best-loved element are the accompanying illustrations, although they are only credited in the back as part of a mass “artists credits,” which is, in fact, the only backmatter.  Perfect for comic book fans, developing readers, and developing schema, this book may also be of interest to educators looking for a hi-lo non-fiction text for an introductory lesson on features of informational text and the sub-genre of visually busy non-fiction that DK practically invented. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Snider, Brandon T.   DC Comics: The Ultimate Character Guide.  New York:  DK Publishing, 2011.  Print.