Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child, by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta

Opening with the pivotal and devastating night of the Gatumba massacre, Uwiringiyimana brings the reader into the perilous moment of having her own life threatened at gunpoint and the tragic murder of her little sister, Deborah.  But this memoir is about more than a single night, and Uwiringiyimana leads the reader back to the beginning to describe in detail her happy life in the Democratic Republic of Congo, albeit one periodically interrupted by conflict and challenged by poverty, before the Gatumba massacre.  Equal focus is given to her life in America, and the struggles she faced as a refugee assimilating to American culture during the tumultuous middle grades years.  Channeling her grief through photography and activism, Uwiringiyimana has become a spokesperson for children in conflict, addressing the United Nations Security Council and serving as cofounder and director of partnerships and communications at Jimbere Fund.  This book will appeal to students in grades 8 and up looking for “real” stories. --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Uwiringiyimana, Sandra, and Abigail Pesta. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child. Katherine Tegen Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. Print.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Stone of Hope: A Memoir by Jim St. Germain, with Jon Sternfeld

A must read for all Passages Academy staff, A Stone of Hope is the story of former student Jim St. Germain, from his impoverished childhood in rural Haiti, his tumultuous youth in Crown Heights, his transformative adolescence with Boys Town, to his passionate pursuit of higher education and current activism seeking to improve the experiences of incarcerated and at-risk youth. St. Germain’s story is a powerful testament to the importance of second chances and the need for strong adult advocates.  Warming this librarian’s heart were passages on the pivotal moment of finding the right book at the right time.  For  St. Germain, that book was The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise, and Fulfill a Dream. Without peers to make a pact with, St. Germain made a pact with himself, one that he was able to keep because of the guidance, understanding, and assistance he was given from a team of mentors while a resident with Boys Town.  Prominently featured is Passages Academy’s own Mrs. Donna Oglio, now retired. While St. Germain gives much credit to his mentors for never giving up on him, it was obvious to this reader that much credit is due to St. Germain’s own strong-willed self-determination. Highly recommended for confident readers looking for a “real” story, and perhaps in need of the right book at the right time. --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Jim St. Germain is the cofounder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT).

St Germain, Jim, with Jon Sternfeld. A Stone of Hope: A Memoir. HarperCollins, 2017. Print.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Seventeen-year old Justyce McAllister’s ex-girlfriend, Melo, is too drunk to drive her Benz home at 3am and Justyce knows it.  Justyce is arrested by a local police officer while attempting to save Melo from her inebriated self.  The incident shades Justyce’s evolving perceptions of his economically-advantaged peers at the boarding school he attends on scholarship.  Justyce decides to to process his thoughts in letters he writes to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wondering what the late, great activist would have done in his shoes and in this cultural and historical moment, which has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Plot twists abound and recommend this to fans of Sitomer’s Caged Warrior.  Narrative shifts through genre and perspective, as well as the topical content, invite comparisons to How It Went Down , The Hate U Give, and Tears of a Tiger.   Highly recommended for independent reading for older middle school readers and up.  Book clubs may enjoy discussing this title as well.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Expected release date: October 17th, 2017.  The text reviewed was an Advanced Readers' Copy.

Stone, Nic.  Dear Martin.  New York: Random House, 2017. Print.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Girl Meets Boy Massacre by Ainslie Hogarth

The Girl Meets Boy Inn is infamous for all of the murders that took place in the mansion-turned-hotel. Stories float around town about the place’s haunted nature and neighbors prefer to walk several blocks out of the way rather than walk anywhere near it. Noelle, however, needs a summer job to get away from her crazy father who she has to care for since her mother abandoned them. That and she really wants an adventure, something dramatic to spice things up in her life. Noelle and her best friend, Alf, take the nightshift at the hotel, but little do they know this will be their last summer alive.

Girl Meets Boy Massacre is an engrossing read, it captures the readers in the first few pages by revealing the ending; a group of teens mysteriously and gruesomely massacred, Noelle and Alf included. Then it uses Noelle’s journal entries to give the reader a first person’s perspective of the events leading to the massacre. The most interesting aspect of the book is that the journal entries are annotated by both the lead detective who could not solve the mystery and a film producer that wants to turn Noelle’s journal into a horror flick, both of which help flesh out the journal entries. Students looking for a good horror/mystery/suspense novel need look no further. Readers who enjoyed Cirque Du Freak, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and When should pick this one up as well.--Claudio Leon

Hogarth, Ainslie. Boy Meets Girl Massacre (Annotated). Woodbury: Flux, 2015. Print.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Passing through customs in New York City’s JFK airport, teenage Fabiola and her mother are separated.  Not understanding her mother’s detainment, Fabiola is directed to proceed to Detroit where her three cousins and aunt Jo await her.  Fabiola has no choice but to continue her journey alone, and she is surprised and dismayed by the reception she receives among family in Detroit.  The title of the book will draw some readers looking for urban fiction, and expectations will be initially dashed as the exposition is slow to bring Fabiola into immediate danger.  Readers who persevere, however, will be hooked by page 157.  Some magical realism, literary language, perspective changes, and Haitian Kreyol make this a good selection for students who have already developed some confidence, and the 300+ page length requires a moderate amount of stamina--somewhat less than The Hate U Gives 25% longer duration.  Highly recommended independent reading for teens.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Zoboi, Ibi.  American Street.  New York: HarperCollins, 2017.

Click here for discussion questions from Reading Group Choices’s website, and here for discussion questions from Maria Stuart at redblkgrl.com’s website.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Guest Post: The Sounds of My Village by Ishmael Beah

Ishmael Beah by Sarah Stacke.  Image from www.themoth.org

Best known for his experiences as a child soldier in the memoir A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah’s pre-war childhood in a rural village of Sierra Leone deserves as much attention. This story is an audio recording of Beah’s performance for The Moth, a group which organizes live storytelling events worldwide. In recounting his upbringing, Beah pays homage to his community and its traditions.

When he was nine, Beah’s grandmother told him that “each person’s mind is their own personal library, and as life breathes its moments before you, those moments become memories, and those memories become narratives [...] that you put on a shelf in your own personal library.”  Inspired by her words to create his own rich narrative, Beah inscribes the rhythms of his village in his mind: the morning cry of the birds, the evening communal meal, and the elders’ nightly stories. With tenderness and humor, Beah narrates how his life, once anchored by the warmth of tradition, is torn apart by the unending impact of war. He draws attention to how each victim’s death is the loss of a storyteller and intimates that war does not just destroy the individual but wipes out the collective memory of a culture. War creates a past without storytellers, a tradition without practitioners, and survivors without access to the narratives they need to understand their place in civilization. This story provides an engaging introduction to Beah’s memoir and implants the idea that a young adult’s life is rich enough to compose a personal library.

While this story, suitable for students ages 9 and up, is easily accessible to English speakers, Beah’s dialect may require additional support and scaffolding to aid students in their understanding.

You can access “The Sounds of My Village” here on The Moth’s website.

Esther Kau currently teaches middle school English in New Jersey. Her current roster of books include Garth Greenwall’s What Belongs to You, her daughter’s favorite, Ben Clanton’s Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, and her son’s favorite, Steve Light’s Cars Go.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

The down-to-earth star of Precious strikes a conversational tone and shares her life story so far.  Growing up in Harlem in a family drawn together by necessity instead of romance, Sidibe articulates her maturing perspective, now suffused with humor, regarding the challenges of her unique experience of her parents’ green card marriage, childhood visits to family in West Africa, unstable housing, school struggles, fame, and elective surgery. Older teen readers looking for a new memoir may well enjoy Gabourey Sidibe’s recently published volume.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Sidibe, Gabourey.  This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fort Mose: And the Story of the Man Who Built the First Free Black Settlement in Colonial America by Glennette Tilley Turner

The title says it all: who among us wouldn’t be fascinated by the origins of the first free black settlement in colonial America?  While students may not initially settle upon this title as an independent reading selection, its concise presentation and accompanying images of historical maps, illustrations, and portraits present a part of American history not usually included in survey textbooks and offers insight into Spain’s complex role in liberating enslaved Africans and Native Americans from British slavers.  Multilingualism, Catholicism, piracy, Cuba and rice all have parts to play in this short story presented in a picture-book sized volume in which the text takes center stage.  Backmatter includes an afterword on Fort Mose today, an author’s note, acknowledgements, a glossary, notes, a list of sources and credits capped off by an index, making this volume well-poised for inquiry instruction for readers who are reading for information and newer to research.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Turner, Glennette Tilley.  Fort Mose: And the Story of the Man Who Built the First Free Black Settlement in Colonial America.  New York: Abrams, 2010. Print.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Welcome Back!

We are looking forward to another school year of good reads! We will resume posting our reviews and recommendations of the best texts for educators serving incarcerated and detained youth here in New York City.  --Editors

Friday, July 21, 2017


We're taking a little hiatus for the summer and looking forward to returning with reviews and programming news after Labor Day.  Happy Summer Reading!