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 formatted 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!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Split By Swati Avasthi

Jace has finally escaped. He is on his way to join his brother Christian because only Christian can understand what Jace has been through. Once reunited Jace and his brother can come up with a plan to rescue their mother from all of the abuse their father has subjected them to. Jace will soon find out that his brother might not be ready to face their past.

Split shows the complexities of relationships in families dealing with an abusive father and how those involved are more than one dimensional people. Even though Jace, Christian, and their mother have been subject to constant abuse, the reader is shown how difficult it can be for those individuals to pull away from such a toxic environment. Split delivers strong messages about relationship and family abuse and how to deal with the fallout of being part of such a relationship. The book is geared towards older middle school students and above.--Claudio Leon

Avasthi, Swati. Split. New York: Ember, 2010. Print

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray, Photographs by Theodore Gray and Nick Mann

Plutonium is illegal to buy anywhere in the United States, but some Americans carry it inside their pacemaker batteries.  Bananas are radioactive, but only slightly more so that many other things we consume.  Gray mixes fascinating tidbits like these with narrative descriptions of each element’s properties and finds a way to inject the end of each page with a bit of suspense sprinkled with humor.   The two-page spreads dedicated to each element are preceded by Gray’s introduction to the periodic table.  Gray’s writing is remarkable science writing on its own, but the accompanying photographs illustrating both the element being described and some of its uses with captions is a winning formula for readers who may not think they like to read about chemistry.   Backmatter includes a narrative walk through the names of elements 101 to 118 on the table and is followed by an author’s note on the joys of element collecting, an image of the author,  a bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index.  All patrons may enjoy browsing and reading the images within; students reading at upper elementary/middle school levels and beyond may enjoy the text, and science teachers may reach for this in designing lessons to familiarize students with the variety of elements on Earth.  Highly recommended for every school library collection serving middle school and high school readers.—Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Gray, Theodore and Nick Mann.  The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe.  New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2009.  Print.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Programming Spotlight: American Museum of Natural History

Students exploring dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History yesterday.  Photo: Jessica Fenster-Sparber

How did the universe come into being and how has it changed over the last 13 billion years?  What is dark energy and how do we know it exists?  How are species endemic to Cuba affected by what we do here in the United States?  How much krill can a blue whale consume in one day?

Students residing in Lutheran and St. Johns houses were invited to wonder about these questions and more in conjunction with a field trip yesterday to NYC's most popular field trip destination, the American Museum of Natural History.  Four of us teachers at Belmont crafted a mini-interdisciplinary unit for the end of the instructional school year melding science, information literacy, advisory, and special education to scaffold a positive learning experience and provide access to the museum for detained youth.  We thank Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for funding the gift of the visit to our students.--Elaine Latham, Shelley Leibusor, Milena Mihalache, and Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi; illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

Imagine that one day your country decides to incarcerate you and your entire family. The crime? Your ethnicity. If your answer is fight back, you would be in the good company of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American who took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court after the United States sent thousands of Japanese-Americans to internment camps during WWII. After Korematsu was arrested and convicted for not reporting to prison camp, many of those imprisoned did not support his fighting back for fear that their situation would worsen.  Korematsu lost that first case, and rebuilt his life after the war, marrying and becoming a father, never telling his children about the case or his time in an internment camp until his teenage daughter read about it at school.  When it was revealed that the lawyers for the US government lied to the Supreme Court, the case was reopened and Korematsu won.  Each chapter of Korematsu’s story opens with a full-page illustration, a free-verse narrative poem, and a two-page spread providing historical context, scrapbook-styled primary documents, a helpful timeline, and important vocabulary words. While this is not a book most students will select for independent reading, its compact packaging of information and visual appeal are ideal for those teaching American history. --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Atkins, Laura, and Stan Yogi. Fred Korematsu Speaks Up. Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2017. Print. Fighting for Justice.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid by Metaphrog

This handsome, full-color comic tells Andersen’s original tale with gorgeous illustration.  The lettering is small and the text is minimal while the pictures are stunning.  Students familiar with Disney’s The Little Mermaid will enjoy comparing this telling of the fairy tale with the Disney movie of their childhood.  Of particular interest in comparative discussions will be the theme, the ending, and the sea witch’s perspective on the value of the little mermaid’s voice.  Perfect for book clubs who wish to read a story and discuss it in one sitting.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Metaphrog.  Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.  Papercutz: New York, 2017. Print.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Little Peach by Peggy Kern

After running away from her drug-addicted mother and abusive stepfather, Michelle finds herself all alone at NYC’s Port Authority bus terminal, making her easy prey for Devon. With his charms and open arms, Devon tricks Michelle into coming to live with him and his three other girls. Michelle suddenly she finds herself trapped and unable to escape the confines of Devon’s world. With little choice, she accepts her role as Devon’s Little Peach and is forced into an early life of prostitution. Little Peach is a powerful short novel which deals with the inner workings of how individuals prey on young girls and trick them into prostitution. It is written at a middle school reading level, and you won’t find any graphic descriptions, but the topic makes the book more suited for 9th graders and above. Students who enjoyed reading Sold will also enjoy reading Little Peach.--Claudio Leon

Kern, Peggy. Little Peach. New York: Balzer Bray, 2015. Print.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Odyssey by Homer Adapted by Tim Mucci

This cartoon-y adaptation of Homer’s epic poem jettisons the poetry to make room for silliness and gorgeously color-saturated illustrations.  The font, rendering dialogue in all caps which will be difficult for some to read, may appeal to lovers of graffiti as it looks like it could have been done with a sharpie.  The narrative Mucci spins is choppy if one sets out to read this through for the story, but in terms of the sections he chooses to dwell on, the art is thoroughly enjoyable. Teachers may want to supplement a reading of the poem with scenes like the addicted lotus eaters, his visit to the underworld, his passage through Scylla and Charybdis, and the final bloodbath when he arrives home only to find dozens of men who say they wish to marry his wife.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Homer, Mucci, Tim.  The Odyssey.  New York: Sterling, 2009.  Print.  Illustrated by Ben Caldwell & Rick Lacey, colored by Emanuel Tenderini