Wednesday, April 13, 2016
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
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
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
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
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
Monday, March 28, 2016
words unlocked evolve
glimpses into times of change
Last year’s theme was transformation. Words Unlocked 2015 Focus Poet and Lead Reviewing Artist, Jimmy Santiago Baca, had this to say about the poems he read:
“You hear their lives and feel their faces and you want to sometimes hold them and protect them from the cruelty and injustice in our world, and you can.”
Experiencing poetry, whether through reading or listening, unlocks words once held by others and allows us a doorway into worlds beyond our physical reach. Just this morning I was watching Words Unlocked 2016 Focus Poet and Reviewing Artist, Donté Clark, perform his piece, "Let Me Breathe” imagining the faces of thousands of young people captivated by his words and sharing an experience.
The theme for Words Unlocked 2016 is interconnectedness. We each interact with one another, making understanding impossible if we are simply considered alone. What bold truths will our young people share about being mutually connected—to others, to communities, to systems, to the world? Words Unlocked assures that bold truths permeate facility walls and travel into the consciousness of those of us living our lives on the outside. As Jimmy Baca wrote “...you can.” Listen to the words of our young people. How might they move you into action?--Christy Sampson-Kelly
Christy Sampson-Kelly is a tireless advocate for a particularly vulnerable group of young people—those with special needs held in locked juvenile and adult facilities. She is also the author of reMembering Mulatta, a book of poetry that exposes her journey through the lived experience of being neither this nor that as a woman of mixed ancestry. She currently serves as the Director of Practitioner Support at CEEAS, leads Words Unlocked, and provides direct coaching to schools in the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and student engagement.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Last week, students in the Lutheran group attended a performance of Fly at the New Victory Theater. The play dramatizes the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and cleverly includes a dance griot, a role filled by the extraordinary Omar Edwards. New Victory Teaching Artists Chad Beckim and Janet Onyenucheya, remarkable artists in their own right, visited the following day to debrief with the students, who turned out to be full of questions about stagecraft, military service, and world politics. Many thanks to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for crucial funding that made this trip possible, and The New Victory Theater for providing us with access to this extremely worthwhile show. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
photo credit: The New Victory Theater
photo credit: The New Victory Theater
Monday, March 21, 2016
Parents are not supposed to have favorites, rather make each child feel special in their own way. At the age of five, David began receiving unusual treatment from his mother, and by seven, he knew he was the “chosen one” and not in a good sense of the term. As more brothers are born into the family, the gap between David as a member and outcast grows, as does the malice of his mother’s dreadfully twisted games. David’s ideal lifestyle of trips to the lake, playing freely, and holiday celebrations fade into memory as he must quickly adapt to her deranged behavior in order to survive. As David reveals the story of his youth, you may become angered with his parents’ sensibility as well as those in most direct contact with him. Dave’s story is one of the worst recorded cases of child abuse in California state history, although it is often refuted by his own family members. This controversial biography and subsequent extensions of his life story are told in The Lost Boy and A Man Called Dave. Dave Pelzer, who schedules more than 200 for profit speaking engagements released a self-help book, Help Yourself, further benefiting off those who are captivated by his story of struggle and perseverance. --Allison Trevaskis
Pelzer, David. A Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survive. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1995. Print.
Friday, March 18, 2016
Shawn McDaniel is fourteen years old and has a great sense of humor about his life in Seattle, Washington. He appreciates his older brother and sister and his special ability to remember everything he has ever heard since he was three or four years old. Especially since he can’t talk, or walk, or move much at all. Reluctant readers may not immediately be able to relate to the narrator, but will be hooked when they learn of his plight and that his father might actually be trying to kill him. Literally. A post-novel FAQ and followed by an author Q & A reveals Trueman’s personal connection to the protagonist of this suspenseful short novel which, among other things, can go a long way in helping readers develop empathy. A great selection for a mixed-age book club. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Trueman, Terry. Stuck in Neutral. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.
Click here for some discussion questions for Stuck in Neutral put together by the Arrowhead Library System in Wisconsin.
Friday, March 11, 2016
Follow Your Money is a great way to get students thinking about how far their money goes. The book breaks down the cost of everyday items in order to demonstrate how much money goes into each of the item’s components. Without much financial jargon, Follow Your Money sheds light into what students pay for when they buy those designer jeans instead of the generic ones or those name brand sneakers instead of cheaper ones. The title is also peppered with small trivia about finance and the history of money. Students who enjoyed Start It Up or just want to know about how the world works will have much to learn from Follow Your Money. Needless to say, the book can also be a great tool for math teachers. --Claudio Leon
Sylvester, Kevin and Michael Hlinka. Follow Your Money. Buffalo: Firefly Books, 2013. Print.