Monday, March 30, 2015

Sneak Preview: Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker by Julian Voloj, Illustrated by Claudia Ahlering



In the last five years there has not been an obvious response to reader demand for another book “just like Yummy,” and that is set to change in May with the publication of Ghetto Brother.  The story of Benjamin Melendez’s founding of, and later departure from, the South Bronx-based gang builds a bit slowly while author Julian Voloj takes care to lay the foundation for what is yet to come. The true history of the gang’s founding and its role in brokering a peace is all the more surprising in light of later revelations due to the care taken in the first part of the story.  Voloj does Melendez’s tale justice by prioritizing the narrative storytelling over factual minutia, and the black and white artwork by Claudia Aherling utilizes fine detail and watercolor to eschew a cartoonish-ness that might otherwise make this street-language-filled edition appeal to younger readers.  Themes of maturity, identity, and responsibility recommend this book to older teens. 

 Ghetto Brother depicts a fascinating slice of New York City/ South Bronx history that pairs well with Panther Baby and touches on Columbus’s arrival in the western hemisphere and the Spanish Inquisition.  Back matter includes eight pages of photographs and the author’s recounting of the “story behind the story,” where Voloj explains that the book is primarily based on interviews with former activists.  He goes on to list additional resources consulted and included photos of Melendez himself during the years of his gang involvement as well as Melendez now, forty plus years later.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber


This review is of an advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher to the reviewer.  This title is scheduled for release in May.

Click here to see Melendez talking about GB's former storefront right in front of former Passages' site Summit(?!).  (around 2:26)
 
Julian Voloj and Benjamin Melendez will be signing books at MoCCA Fest 2015 on April 11th (both from 1:30-3pm, and Julian Voloj alone from 5 to 6pm) and 12th (Julian Voloj alone from 12-1pm, and both Julian Voloj and Benjamin Melendez from 3:30-5pm).   

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sports Illustrated Basketball’s Greatest


“In the clutch, who would you rather have with the ball, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird?”  Sports Illustrated’s Basketball’s Greatest is another pictorial with dramatic and artistic photographs of the most famous men in basketball, filling the void left by books like DK’s Basketball’s Best Shots when they go out of print.  Yes, only men.  To their credit, this edition includes the editors’ notes on how they created the rankings and lists the writers and editors whose opinions counted on page ten.  Back matter includes full lists of all nominees for each category.  Less sophisticated readers will appreciate the treasury of photographs, most in full-color, in this oversized coffee table book.  More sophisticated readers will enjoy the articles authored by some of the most famous and most prolific Sports Illustrated writers.  All basketball lovers will find much to discuss, similar to Sports Illustrated’s Kids’ edition on this same topic.  The two make an interesting comparison:  what do publishers do differently when they are trying to sell a book for a younger audience and why?  Perfect for media units and scaffolding the common core’s emphasis on analyzing nonfiction text for audience. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Skyen, Bill. (Editor).  Sports Illustrated Basketball’s Greatest.  New York: Time Home Entertainment, 2014.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Marian Anderson: A Voice Uplifted by Victoria Garrett Jones


Why was vocal artist Marian Anderson awarded the United Nations Peace Prize?  Why did she receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom?  Victoria Garrett Jones leads the curious reader through Anderson’s life beginning with her birth in 1897, and filling the reader in on social and historical context through page-length features on topics like “Spirituals”, “Black Jews” (Anderson’s grandfather identified as such), Anderson’s packing habits (she sometimes traveled with more than twenty-five pieces of luggage at a time!) and key figures in her life and times.  The neat layout, ample white space, and well-selected accompanying images make this volume a strong selection for less-sophisticated older readers.  Helpful front matter includes a timeline of Anderson’s life and backmatter includes a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.  Readers with an interest in American history, black history, civil rights, and music will find much to appreciate.  Patrons requesting a true rags-to-riches story need look no further. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Jones, Victoria Garrett.  Marian Anderson: A Voice Uplifted.  New York: Sterling, 2008.

Click here for a calendar-based activity which invites students to write a public letter regarding their feelings on a present-day social injustice.   Within the lesson, students may read Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter of resignation to the Daughters of the American Revolution upon learning that they would not permit Marian Anderson to perform in Constitution Hall  (an image of Roosevelt’s letter is printed in Jones’ book on page 74.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Things I Have to Tell You edited by Betsy Franco

“my friend and i/ got caught in a storm/ with tears for rain/ and shouts for thunder”
-Melissa Leigh Davis, p41

This slim collection of poetry written by teen girls covers a wide swath of topics, from self-image to gender inequality to complicated relationships and transitioning to adulthood, in its 63 pages.  The writing is at times poignant, acerbic, witty, and deeply touching.  It is always heartfelt.  Each page is illustrated with bold, candid black and white photographs which, while unrelated to the text, complement it well.  Things I Have to Tell You collects voices from girls from many walks of life and many different places and in this diversity offers a chance for girls to see themselves powerfully reflected on the page.  Recommended for fluent readers looking for honest and relatable poetry and to young writers looking for inspiration.  Best suited to teen girls with established poetic leanings.  Front and back matter include a table of contents, author’s preface, photographer’s preface and acknowledgements, author's acknowledgements, and an about the editor and photographer section.  Educators wishing to use this volume in the classroom, perhaps as a supplemental text for women’s history or poetry month lessons, may want to know that there is occasional strong language. --Regan Schwartz

Thursday, March 19, 2015

No Fear Shakespeare: Graphic Novels: Romeo & Juliet



Getting ready to teach Shakespeare? Then I’m sure you’ve heard of No Fear Shakespeare, but have you seen the comic book?  The graphic novel version of No Fear Romeo & Juliet manages to keep many of the jokes and double entendres found in the original play.  Unlike the full-text versions of the No Fear series, the manga adaptation does not contain both the original text and a plain English translation.  Instead, it only has the latter which is suitable for high school students. The graphic novel really excels where it should-- the illustrations.  The black and white panels support the text as they depict characters’ emotions as easy to read; shading helps separate night and day, as well as give characters depth and help the reader understand the mood/tone of each scene. Not every graphic novel reader will gravitate to this adaptation on their own. Students who have read and enjoyed Persepolis and Maus will certainly feel right at home due to the similar art styles, and the demand of students’ background knowledge about the time period. Teachers may want to consider using this adaptation as a scaffolding tool when teaching Romeo and Juliet. I highly recommend pairing this version with both more complex and simpler versions of the play to enrich a reading.--Claudio Leon

Shakespeare, William. No Fear Shakespeare: Graphic Novels: Romeo & Juliet. New York: Spark Publishing, 2008. Print.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Slam Dunk! The Top 10 Lists of Everything in Basketball by Sports Illustrated Kids


Greatest basketball player of all time...well, let’s just say that SIK’s pick won’t surprise you and this book is full of rankings that will inspire controversy among readers passionate about basketball.  The large format size emphasizes the full-color photos, sure to appeal to social readers and browsers, as well as serious fans and players.  Foregoing an introduction in favor of jumping right into “Top 10 Greatest Players,” this volume encompasses thirty-two lists, some spread out over several pages, and including topics such as “coolest jerseys,” “teams,” “trades,” and “WNBA players,”... What’s that?  You can’t believe that women don’t show up until page thirty-four and none are among the “greatest players?”  Me neither.  This book will be popular anyway.  Fodder for discussion on multiple fronts.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Sports Illustrated Kids.  Slam Dunk!  Top 10 Lists of Everything In Basketball.  New York: Time Hope Entertainment, 2014.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Programming Spotlight: Paul Griffin Visits Crossroads

Yesterday, author Paul Griffin visited two classes at Passages Academy - Crossroads.  He spoke with students about his life and career, answered questions about his books (Ten Mile River, Orange Houses, Stay With Me, and Burning Blue), and worked with students on telling “the best story in the world” - their own.  Each student received a gift copy of Ten Mile River, graciously provided by Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, which Paul personalized.  Said one student, holding his book, “I need to read books; books keep me going.” We are indebted to Paul for writing the books that keep our students going. --Regan Schwartz

Monday, March 9, 2015

Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi. By Neal Bascomb


Nazi Hunters is a compelling example of narrative non-fiction that reads like a true spy novel. The pages are filled with primary sources gathered during the suspenseful hunt for Adolf Eichmann, the orchestrator of the Nazi’s Final Solution. Nazi Hunters begins with the retelling of Eichmann’s rise to power in the Nazi Party, the end of World War II, and his escape to Argentina. Sixteen years later he was found and a team of special Israeli spies was sent out to secretly capture him and smuggle Eichmann back to Israel where he could stand trial. Through the spies’ retelling of the story, we learn about the preparation and dangers of the mission. From disguises to hidden cameras, the Israeli spies employed every trick up their sleeves to confirm the man they would capture was indeed the man they sought for his involvement in the death of millions.

Nazi Hunters is a great read for high school students interested in the Holocaust, spy novels or the events surrounding World War II.  The text is supplemented by photographs, maps, and documents used during the reconnaissance, capture and escort phases of the mission. --Claudio Leon

Bascomb, Neal. Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books. 2013. Print.

For a few discussion questions from the folks at Unleashing Readers, click here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Guest Review: Every Day by David Levithan



He is himself – but every day that “self” is different. Figuring out some things – boy or girl, fat or thin, skin color, hair, eye color – can be accomplished by a quick look in a mirror. The body is easy – the life is hard. And “A” has just one day to live the “life” without messing it up. His cardinal rule: make no choices that the “body” will have to suffer the consequences for. Do not become involved, especially not with the love of your life.  David Levithan’s unique look at fitting in allows all readers to see themselves at least once, because at some point, A lives the life of just about every kind of teen. From the frightened drug addict to the jock, the head cheerleader to the abused girlfriend, straight, gay, a loner, popular – A lives them all for a day. With the added twist of a romance, a “body” set on revenge and a preacher who just might know what’s going on, A has enough drama in his life to satisfy any reader. It is a great selection for book clubs – just a discussion on “which life and why” will keep the conversations lively! And my club had even more fun with their own take on what might happen next.  --Kathie Wilkins


Levithan, David. Every Day. New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Click here for a list of discussion questions from Northern Arizona University and here for a discussion guide from Siouxland Libraries in South Dakota.

Kathie Wilkins is the school librarian for the Blandford and Oak Ridge campuses of Yvonne B. Miller HS, located at the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice's Beaumont site. She enjoys reading and has been a mystery fan since becoming hooked on Agatha Christie more years ago than she'd like to admit to. When she's not reading, she spends as much time as possible with her five grandchildren.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes



Cassie is seventeen and has preternatural profiling abilities.  She can size up most people without even thinking about it and often make predictions about future behaviors.  When the FBI recruits her for a top secret initiative, it doesn’t take her long to decide that she wants to press her natural talent into service working on cold cases.  Flown by private jet to live in a group home, of sorts, with other talented teens, she has some big adjustments to make, teen drama to live through, and minor mysteries to solve until a bigger one with higher stakes reveals itself and sucks her in.  Will her talent allow her to save others?  Or will it become her downfall?  

Chapters alternating between Cassie’s first-person narration and an anonymous serial killer’s second-person narration keep the suspense going and ratchet it up as the story progresses.  A thriller along the lines of I Hunt Killers geared toward readers under sixteen, The Naturals features a female protagonist with a sharp mind looking for a feeling of belonging.  Recommended for independent reading, this book will appeal to those looking for a mystery and those who enjoy psychological drama and bloody murder descriptions.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn.  The Naturals.  New York: Hyperion, 2013.