Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Guinness World Records 2016 Gamer’s Edition by Guinness World Records Limited


Ever wanted to know how much money you could earn by winning a Call of Duty Tournament? $125,000. How about the best-selling independently made game? Minecraft, which has sold over 60 million copies and made a total of $318.5 million dollars. Not bad for a game that originally only cost $820 to make. But it’s not all numbers, the Guinness World Records 2016 Gamer’s Edition contains a deluge of interesting information about video games, all of which is presented in the form of infographics and organized alphabetically by game title. Pages are sprinkled with tips and tricks, sidebars about particular records, and most of all filled with pictures from the games mentioned. This volume also explains to readers how to go about breaking a record and making it into the book. Record breakers and video game players alike should enjoy looking through all the information this book has to offer.--Claudio Leon

Guinness World Records Limited, and Bastian Heinlein. Guinness World Records 2016 Gamer's Edition. Hamburg: Hoffmann Und Campe, 2015. Print.

The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake



If there is ever a time when one feels as though they are on an island unto themselves and simultaneously on center stage with Broadway lights highlighting all of their perceived flaws, it would be the middle school years. A time when you feel so lonely, but are surrounded by so many people, people whose eyes and words singe deeply. Sharon Flake does an impeccable job portraying this scenario from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl, Maleeka Madison-the-third [sic], a bright student whose past and low self-esteem lingers in her everyday choices. It is a new, tough teacher, Miss Saunders, who is always in Maleeka's business and whose own imperfections act as a lens for her in learning to love the skin she's in. With this lesson, Maleeka takes control and is finally able to break free from the hold of the most popular girl in the grade, Char. With vocabulary that is accessible to a wide range of readers, I highly recommend this title to middle and high school girls.--Allison Trevaskis

Flake,  Sharon G. The Skin I’m In. New York: Jump at the Sun Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1998.  Print.

Click here for the Anti-Defamation League’s discussion guide and resource links pertaining to The Skin I’m In.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Laughing at my Nightmare by Shane Burca



Unable to use his limbs, Shane Burcaw has spent the better part of his lifetime making friends, jokes, and sly observations from his wheelchair.  Burcaw decided to put his refreshing humor to good use in this memoir chronicling his challenges and triumphs from the first twenty years of his life.  Readers will empathize and laugh with Shane as he gets through school and navigates the social waters of college with lots of cursing and jokes along the way.  Highly recommended to anyone wishing to walk (or roll) a mile in someone else’s shoes.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Burcaw, Shane.  Laughing at My Nightmare.  New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2014.  Print.

Friday, June 10, 2016

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera



Imagine a future in which everything is the same as it is now, except a new breakthrough in brain science has made it possible for specially trained surgeons to erase memories.  The procedure is in high demand, and teens can’t opt in without a parent’s signature and a bunch of money.  What would you do if you were Aaron--sixteen years old and unable to shake the memory of finding your father dead from suicide?  Set in NYCHA projects in the Bronx, this novel’s protagonist has a strong and unique voice and comes across as sensitive and seemingly self-aware.  A supporting cast of familiar, less-developed characters as Aaron’s family and friends comes together to tackle heavy themes of identity, memory, family, love, and loss with several surprising twists and some unusual chronology.  Highly recommended for more sophisticated readers ready to move beyond titles like How it Went Down and I Hunt Killers, and a must-read for fans of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Silvera, Adam.  More Happy Than Not.  New York: Soho Press, 2015. Print.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I, Witness by Norah McClintock, Illustrated by Mike Deas


When Boone and Robbie witness the murder of a man the decision to keep their mouths shut is simple. But when Robbie is then murdered, Boone is sent into a spiral of fear. If this weren’t already challenging enough for Boone to handle, the family of his murdered friend believes he knows who the murderer is and want Boone to come forward. Boone must decide to either put his life at risk or continue suffering in silence. Similar to Yummy and Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm, I, Witness is a black and white graphic novel. It uses a gritty art style to convey the challenges of growing up surrounded by violence and having to make tough choices in order to stay alive. I Witness does a great job at sucking the reader in within the first chapter. The story is well paced and keeps readers guessing up until the last page. Students looking for a graphic novel a bit longer than Yummy will be sure to pick this one up.--Claudio A. Leon
McClintock, Norah & Deas, Mike. I, Witness. Washington: Orca Book Publishers, 2012. Print.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Professional Text Review I Hope I Don’t See You Tomorrow: A Phenomenological Ethnography of the Passages Academy School Program by Dr. Lee Gabay


Co-Editors note: Here at WG? we focus almost exclusively on the texts and leaders who serve our students, but sometimes you have to break your own rules and Dr. Lee Gabay’s new title warrants a deviation from our own bounds and traditions.  Perhaps more will follow.
Perfectly-sized for the busy teacher, administrator, or curious outsider, Dr. Gabay has written the first book that combines both a researcher’s questions and insider insight into Passages Academy.  Written over the course of a decade, and just published a few months ago, I Hope I Don’t See You Tomorrow furnishes the reader with a literature review that provides meaningful context situating the work of Passages Academy.  Dr. Gabay has elected to keep his voice and perspective present as someone who worked at Passages for many years, and his book reports on and analyzes mostly anonymous interviews he conducted with colleagues.  For administrators and policymakers whose work dovetails with incarcerated and detained youth and whom have never taught in a Passages classroom, this book is essential reading.  For students of criminology and criminal justice, as well as judges and the slew of social agencies and arts agencies who endeavor to concern themselves with the welfare of court-involved youth, and for any educator who ever wondered if they might have something to contribute in a detention setting, this book is highly recommended.  While it is an academic work, Gabay intends his writing to be accessible and straightforward.  Six chapters encompass the researcher and text’s contextualization, the methodology used, an overview of the history of education and juvenile justice, an exploration of the students’ experience, and the results of Gabay’s interviews with colleagues.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Gabay, Lee A.  I Hope I Don’t See You Tomorrow: A Phenomenological Ethnography of the Passages Academy School Program.  The Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2016.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward


Pregnant and desperately poor, fifteen-year-old Esch lives with her two older brothers, high school basketball star Randall and pitbull-raising Skeetah, her baby brother Junior, and her widowed, underemployed, and alcoholic father in rural Louisiana.  Set during the week before Hurricane Katrina descends, Salvage the Bones heart-wrenchingly depicts Esch’s scorching love for her brother’s friend, Skeetah’s Greek tragedy-like devotion to his pitbull and her litter of puppies, Randall’s hopes of attending basketball camp where he’s sure to be noticed by college scouts, Junior’s search for a connection to the mother who died giving birth to him, and their father’s futile attempts to prepare for the unimaginable.  Themes of love, family, friendship, loyalty, and betrayal are thick throughout this many-layered story.  A modern classic for a strong reader.  --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage the Bones. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. Print.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Programming Spotlight: Poetry Performance at BAM



Students residing at the Blum group home attended Poetry 2016: Past Is Present, a performance that opened on Thursday and will continue at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fishman Space through next week.  Attendees were welcomed by DJ Reborn, warmed up with Baba Isreal, and then took in performance poetry from Climbing PoeTree, Liza Jessie Peterson, Flaco Navaja and Jennifer Cendana Armas, as well as a couple of impressive peers giving debut readings.  Poems were accompanied by beatboxing, dancing, and live music, as well as moving projections, making meaning on a variety of levels and adding to the complexity of the art.  The performance was followed by a Q & A onstage with all of the participants and everyone seemed to enjoy this foray into a new space.  Many thanks to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for providing the critical funding to purchase tickets, and to Ms. Nadel, Ms. DeLara, Ms. Aiyana, Ms. Sandra, Blum Staff, and Mr. Watters and Mr. Moe at ACS for working as a team to make this trip a success.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse



Teachers looking for a narrative poem to illustrate the genre, as well as poetry lovers searching for a read-aloud poem to serve as an invitation to a story may wish consider this contemporary issue of Thayer’s classic.  I shared Casey this week at the commencement of baseball season and its confluence with the start of National Poetry Month.  This particular version initially grabbed students’ attention with its urban illustrations, though the poem itself seduces the reader using the traditional elements of poetry.  The poem’s pacing and suspense are enhanced by this publication’s layout.  This selection proved perfect for a shared reading and librarians will want to have multiple copies on hand so that students eager to study the images can do so without interrupting the rhythm and rhymes of the poem as it builds the momentum to its final anti-climax, leaving students hankering for more.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Kids Can Press provides a pdf containing lesson plan ideas on their website.  Click here for the website and then scroll down for the pdf labeled “teaching.”

Thayer, Ernest L. Casey at the Bat.  Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2010.  Print.

Friday, April 1, 2016

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay, Illustrated by Daniel Lafrance


This is the story of a young African teen whose boarding school is attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Koni. The events that follow Jacob are tragic as the LRA implements their ruthless tactics in order to force Jacob and his fellow classmates into becoming part of the LRA. In order to survive his captors, Jacob and three other classmates swear to protect each other as family. War Brothers touches on a multitude of topics from child soldiers to the difficulties of re-entering society after such traumatic events. However, the book does not explore either topic in depth.  This is both good and bad as it can be used as a tool to introduce students to such topics but further resources would be needed to explore them more deeply. The graphics contain just enough text to get the story across, making it accessible to students at a lower middle school reading level. Like any good graphic novel, the story is well paced and told through a well balanced use of text bubbles and graphic panels. Students who enjoyed Dogs Of War should enjoy reading War Brothers.--Claudio Leon


McKay, Sharon E., and Daniel Lafrance, Illustrator. War Brothers: The Graphic Novel. New York: Annick Press, 2013. Print.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Apollo by George O’Connor


In sixty-six pages of glorious color George O’Connor provides the eighth installment in his beloved Olympians series.  O’Connor uses the Mousai, more popularly known as the Muses, to tell seven tales of Greek god Apollo.  All eight Olympians volumes will be of great interest to fans of mythology, comics, and especially to teachers of young people following common core standards. Notably, this series offers layers of text complexity that are not commonly accessible to students who gravitate toward slimmer books.  O’Connor and his publisher have intelligently included generous backmatter making these books a great selection for educators: an author’s note, text notes, illustrated profiles of mythological characters, questions for discussion, and a bibliography are rounded off with a short list of suggested further reading.  My favorite part of this series, however, is the family tree on the inside of the front cover of each volume, providing a handy reference to the relational and familial connections that function as threads in the complex tapestry of Greek mythology. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber