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 parts 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 back matter.  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.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Programming Spotlight: Torrey Maldonado


Middle school students at Bronx Hope met author Torrey Maldonado yesterday and were captivated by his charm, his energy and his childhood stories. For the last three weeks, they read his book Secret Saturdays and prepared for his visit. All of them were quick to point out the similarities between the author's real life and his novel. Thanks for making such a memorable experience for our students, Torrey!  --Anja Kennedy

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrinc


From eighteen year-old Michaela DePrince comes a memoir which will be of interest to students seeking true stories of survival and triumph.  The DePrince co-authors (mother and daughter) use simple and accessible language to tell Michaela’s tale of her early life in Sierra Leone during the country’s violent conflict.  Orphaned at age three and adopted by the American DePrince family at age four, Michaela relays what she can remember about her experiences as a bright little girl, her parents’ only child, born with vitiligo and a precocious ability with languages.  That little girl survived abuse as an orphan, and her memoir spends a fair amount of time on narrating her difficult early life and her incredible survival and adjustment to life in the United States.  Readers will be heartened as they follow Michaela’s pursuit of her dream to become a professional ballet dancer and interested to learn about the challenges and obstacles she has overcome and those she still faces dancing in the U.S. (she is currently pursuing her dreams in Europe).  Social Studies teachers may find the initial chapters of the book a useful supplement via its firsthand account of a child’s experience during Sierra Leone’s civil war.  Recommended for independent reading for middle school girls. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Discover an interview with the co-authors published in Justine Magazine here.  (Thank you, Regan!)  Read an excerpt published in Teen Vogue here.

DePrince, Michaela and Elaine DePrince.  Taking Flight.  New York: Random House, 2014. Print.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Halloween Programming Spotlight





Raawwwr!  Papertoy Monsters came to life inside three of our libraries last week at Crossroads on Monday and at Horizon and Belmont on Friday. Said one student at Belmont, "I'm nice at this!  I'm gonna make a million monsters!"  At Bronx Hope, students made Halloween-themed bookmarks. Hope you all had Happy Halloweens!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal



While almost all of our students know what the word “bootleg” means in contemporary slang, few, if any, know of prohibition, the eighteenth amendment, or that Al Capone was born in Brooklyn.  This engaging narrative history begins in 1875 with the birth of Morris Sheppard, later known as The Grandfather of Prohibition, and takes the reader through American history, highlighting key figures in the story like Carrie Nation (Chapter 3), the notorious bar smasher, Al Capone (Chapter 8), infamous gangster, and ending with MADD and Red Ribbon Week.  Throughout, Blumenthal refrains from any final judgement on the “wets” and the “drys,” focusing on the dual messages that “each of us is responsible for our own behavior” and that “the experience of prohibition continues to color our laws, our debates and our personal lives.”  Rich back matter includes a glossary, discussion questions from the author, an interview with the author, additional resources, source notes, acknowledgements and an index.  Recommended for independent reading, as a teaching text for non-fiction ELA units, an enrichment text for American history, and even a book club. .--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Blumenthal, Karen.  Bootleg:  Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition.  New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2011.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Three Little Words: A Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter


Ashley Rhodes-Courter has met the President of the United States, spoken in front of groups of hundreds of people around the country, been published in newspapers and magazines, and appeared on television.  But her start in life was far from auspicious.  After being taken from her drug-addicted mother at the age of three, Ashley spent the next nine years in a series of foster and group homes, some acceptable, a few kind, one run by an abusive, cruel, and manipulative woman.  As Ashley clung to her mother’s promises and her younger brother, the foster care system failed her again and again.  In this memoir, Ashley details her journey in painstaking detail, offering an important glimpse into the many ways that emotional trauma impacts a child’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior.  Three Little Words may be a great match for sophisticated readers interested in personal stories of foster and state care.  Those looking for stories of survivors of abuse may like to know that Rhodes-Courter's account is markedly less sensational than Pelzer's series.  Backmatter includes a helpful guide for reading groups.-- Regan Schwartz

Rhodes-Courter, Ashley.  Three Little Words.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vicious: True Stories by Teens About Bullying



Vicious: True Stories by Teens About Bullying Edited by Hope Vanderberg

Bullying seems to be a universal experience to the students I’ve gotten to know where I work.  Whether they’ve been bullied, been a bully, or been a bystander, the topic is never unfamiliar.  This collection of writings from teenagers and young adults will let any reader who has experienced bullying know that he or she is not alone.  One of the collection’s strengths is its authenticity; these are the true voices and experiences of contemporary survivors.  The stories are accessible to developing teen readers and their brevity may appeal to both student readers and their teachers.  Recommended for independent reading for teens and educators looking for short stories addressing bullying.  Diverse sub-themes include sexual harassment (“Can I Holla Atcha” by Allajah Young”), LGBTQ (“Gay on the Block” by Jeremiyah Spears and “A Place to Belong” by Lavell Pride), the immigrant experience (“I Showed My Enemies-- and Hurt My Friends, Too” by Elie Elius), and multiple perspectives from foster homes, treatment centers, and residential facilities (like “Standing My Ground” by Xavier Reyes).--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Vanderberg, Hope (editor).  Vicious: True Stories by Teens About Bullying.  Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2012.

Youth Communication provides assorted stories from this collection (and more) on the topic of bullying here.  Titles displaying an apple icon include lesson plan and discussion ideas for teachers.