Friday, October 17, 2014

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

While desperately trying to discover the secrets of the universe outside of himself, a boy called Ari stumbles upon the secrets within himself. Ari is a typical young teenage boy dealing with the pain and glory of youth, just as all teenagers do, when he finds an unlikely confidante in another teen, Dante, at a local pool. Dante and Ari set out to discover what the world has to offer them and encounter some of its dangers along the way. Through the struggles and joy of their friendship, the two uncover deeper truths about the world, themselves, and what they mean to each other. I would highly recommend this wonderfully captivating book to teens, male or female, who are also trying to discover themselves, the world around them, and how to navigate it all.--Jenny Caliendo

Teachers and librarians may want to note that this is a significant LGBTQ book, addressing class differences, Latino identity, and queer identity in a way that is non-threatening to a teen reader.  Vamos A Leer has put together a teaching guide for this novel here.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Jenny Caliendo is a special education educator at Passages Academy's Belmont site.  She enjoys co-teaching ELA classes.  Jenny is also an author as well as a talented songwriter and musician and can be seen and heard performing at Belmont on special occasions.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers

What will the Bronx be like in 2035?  In this posthumously published novel, Walter Dean Myers takes readers on a journey into a vision of the near future.  That vision includes cars that drive themselves, a concentration of power in the hands of a few, the rise of gated communities, microchips embedded in humans at birth, and a spunky protagonist named Dahlia.  A fifteen-year-old math whiz whose mother recently passed away, Dahlia lives on her own in a house with neighbors she considers family in a western part of the Bronx.  What does Dahlia need to know to determine whether she and other bright teens can make a difference while societies around the world seem to be heading towards total atomization and increasingly giving up autonomy to the rule of a few corporations?  This new novel will be of interest to fans of the late, great Myers, as well as readers interested in dystopian futures and the role of teenagers in averting disaster by becoming engaged citizens.  With this text Myers seems to have taken all of his contemporary concerns about young people and woven them into a novel with his tried-and-true structure.  Seasoned readers will find his experiment with a teenaged girl’s voice to be of interest.  We eagerly await students’ verdicts. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Myers, Walter Dean.  On A Clear Day.  New York: HarperCollins, 2014.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chess Rumble by G. Neri

Chess Rumble is the story of a young teen named Marcus who, after the death of his sister and the absence of his father, finds himself unable to cope with his anger.  This leads to Marcus often lashing out at those around him at the slightest provocation.  His uncontrollable fits of anger develop into displays of aggressive behavior, fights at school, picking on his two younger brothers and, at one point, he almost strikes his mother.  Looking for a way to help Marcus deal with his anger, the school principal introduces Marcus to a chess program.  There, he meets ex-convict CM, who teaches Marcus that it’s more beneficial to keep your emotions under control and remain calm even in the worst situations. The text, which is written in one or two columns per page, is accompanied by black and white illustrations which help bring the characters to life.  Thanks to the illustrator, Jesse Joshua Watson, emotions can easily be read on the characters’ faces.  

Chess Rumble can be a good way to get students thinking about anger issues and may be useful as an introduction to the game of chess. Readers of Autobiography of my Dead Brother and Yummy should give Chess Rumble a chance; all three titles deal with living in the hood, dealing with gang life and death, and all contain black and white illustrations. --Claudio Leon

Neri, Greg, and Jesse Joshua Watson. Chess Rumble. New York, NY: Lee & Low, 2007. Print.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dogalog by Dr. Bruce Fogle

“Miss, what kind of dog is it that has those wrinkles/a purple tongue/lion fur/any number of interesting or odd characteristics?” These are all questions I have been asked a surprising number of times.  Every time, I am grateful that I have Dogalog to turn to.  With over 400 breeds profiled in full-color, two-page spreads, it is an engaging and informative resource for dog-lovers and those curious about dogs.  Each profile includes a full-body photograph captioned with details about the breed’s physical characteristics, an overview with a brief history of the breed, and a sidebar with key facts.  The dogs are organized into broad categories, such as terriers and working breeds, which can make finding a specific breed tricky.  Luckily, there is a comprehensive index and table of contents.  A great resource on its own, this volume is also a valuable tool for teaching the features and structure of nonfiction texts. --Regan Schwartz

Fogle, Bruce. Dogalog. New York: DK Publishing, 2000.

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.


Click here for the author's discussion guide to the book found on her website.

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