Friday, February 12, 2016

The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice by Zak Ibrahim with Jeff Giles


I dare you to read the first four pages of this short book and abandon it.  This is a memoir from the American-born son of a terrorist who is serving a life sentence for plotting the bombing of the World Trade Center.  Current students will not remember the incident which occurred in 1993, but many will relate to the challenges of growing up poor and with an incarcerated parent.  Most readers will, I imagine, marvel at the author’s articulation of the suffering he endured as a result of his father’s choices, his ultimate rejection of the indoctrination of hatred, and his loving embrace of his right to make his own choices about how to be a human being.  Highly recommended for teen and adult book clubs as well as independent reading for students interested in current events and stories relayed by narrators who have grown up with tremendous challenges and overcome adversity.  The Terrorist’s Son winningly combines brevity, heft, and inspiration.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber


Ebrahim, Zak with Jeff Giles.  The Terrorist’s Son.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014.  Print.

A curriculum guide by Pam B. Cole, Associate Dean and Professor of English Education and Literacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA, can be found here.  The TED talk Ebrahim gave that led to the writing and publication of this text can be found here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown


“What happened at the N’awlins?”


Teen readers are too young to remember Hurricane Katrina, but Beyonce may have just inspired their curiosity with this weekend’s release of her new video “Formation.”  For adolescent readers wondering why the pop star depicts herself atop a submerged police car, and, later, drowning atop that car, or those struggling to connect the dots between the drowning imagery and the video’s juxtaposition of graffiti that reads “Stop shooting us” at 4:26, Don Brown has written and illustrated a compelling, grave, illuminating and now award-winning volume.  In full color with shades and tones of sadness, this text is less than 100 pages long and most pages contain a maximum of two sentences of text, making this highly recommended for reluctant teen readers with a taste for graphic novels and teachers looking for a hybrid non-fiction text.  This book concludes with a thorough listing of source notes, a bibliography, and a closing dedication.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Brown, Don.  Drowned City:  Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 2015.  Print.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West by Lillian Schlissel


During an informal survey I conducted this week within our school library, I learned that 100% of the students I currently serve did not know that 25% of American cowboys in the 19th century were of African descent.  Black Frontiers provides the visual evidence that students desired to substantiate this claim.  Chapters on homesteaders and mountain men were of less interest, so I strongly suggest introducing this text with the aforementioned historical photographs or with the chapter on Nat Love, also known as Deadwood Dick, on page 31.  The brief chapter ends with a photograph of Love after he changed lifestyles and career paths to become a Pullman porter in 1890, which can also spark conversations about the development of the railways, the socio-economic opportunities at that time, and career choices.  This book, along with Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice will have students wondering how truth is uncovered when history is investigated and written.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Click here for PBS’ middle school & high school lesson plans on African Americans in the West which is rich with additional resource suggestions.

Schlissel, Lillian.  Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West.  New York:  Aladdin Paperbacks, 2000.  Print.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy by Peggy Caravantes



Born into extreme poverty and a survivor of a harsh childhood, Josephine Baker made it to Paris by the age of nineteen and went on to become an international sensation during a time when African Americans were treated with disdain throughout the United States.  This biography will instruct and inspire adolescent readers with revelations of the last century and the bravery, creativity, and perseverance of its subject.  Presented in twelve chapters which frequently offer boxed features to provide additional context to people, places, and events that arise in the text (e.g. “Eva Peron” and “The March on Washington,”) this book will be of interest to adults not yet familiar with the highs, lows, and complexities of Baker’s life as well. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Caravantes, Peggy.  The Many Faces of Josephine Baker:  Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy.  Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015.  Print.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner


Suffering several tragic family losses in the wake of Haiti’s earthquake, Magdalie is penniless and emotionally adrift in a temporary camp without schooling. Coupled with the loss of her family comes the loss of Magdalie’s sense of security and the future she was working towards.  The tedium of her months in a temporary camp fuel boredom and depression at the prospect of living a life unfulfilled.  We follow Magdalie’s life, a life indefinitely put on hold by the efforts required merely to subsist, as her anger and frustration grow with every failed attempt to better her circumstances.  Will Magdalie learn to let go of her anger and face her days with hope once again? Offering rich portrayals of both the challenges and beauty in urban and rural Haiti, Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go is a novel that leaves a lasting impression.  Recommended for those seeking an inspirational story of finding hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. --Anne Lotito-Schuh


Wagner, Laura Rose. Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go: A Novel of Haiti. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2015. Print.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks



For readers who like their anatomy lessons with a whole lot of kawaii and a little bit of humor on the side, Wicks has crafted a new hit.  In eleven chapters a humorous skeleton narrates a guided theatrical tour of the skeletal, muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, excretory, endocrine, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems, and follows all of that up with an explanation of how our five senses work.  A wonderful text for health and physical education instruction, especially teachers seeking to create and build body schema among students who don’t lean toward textbooks, this text is also an interesting example of a hybrid text for ELA teachers introducing non-fiction.  Human Body Theater includes a table of contents, a glossary, a bibliography, and recommended reading.  Slick production values with gorgeous full-color pages make this title appealing to younger readers as well as its intended middle school audience. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Wicks, Maris.  Human Body Theater: A Non-fiction Revue.  New York: First Second, 2015.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Untwine: a Novel by Edwidge Danticat


Living in Miami, identical, Haitian-American twins Giselle and Isabelle Boyer have distinct interests and personalities. But underlying their individualities are two souls entwined.  When the family suffers a devastating car accident, Isabelle is killed and Giselle struggles as she feels herself untwine from Isabelle.  Giselle recognizes that she is a living physical reminder of the girl Isabelle was and will continue to grow into the woman Isabelle would have looked like.  Old relationships transform into something different in this new reality, as does Giselle’s own perception of herself.  A good read for older teen readers seeking a bit of introspection. --Anne Lotito-Schuh


Danticat, Edwidge. Untwine: a Novel. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015. Print.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Between Me and the World by Ta-Nehisi Coates




Is this relatively small, relatively short book going to appeal to Passages’ students?

Addressed to Coates' fifteen-year old son, which Tressie McMillam Cottom discusses as a literary device, this book is alternatingly approachable and impenetrable for less sophisticated readers thanks to its uneven, complex structure.  Teens will be interested in the man who talks about “people who think they are white” and takes on America’s history of brutality toward African Americans, but they’ll lose interest during long passages about Coates’ time at an elite historically black college and they’ll question a man who says he knows the streets, but whose father was a university librarian.  Moreover, for students who have not known their fathers, the whole conceit of a man addressing his son in a professorial tone may be alienating.  

This book definitely qualifies as a non-fiction text class read and a solid addition to a classroom library, but you will have to have read and process it first yourself, and that will take longer than the narrowness of the spine might intimate.  I highly recommend this book to educators for personal independent reading.  I expect you will find the sections that will speak most clearly to the students you work with, you’ll excerpt them, and then you can facilitate the meaningful conversations many are aching to have around Coates’ discoveries and philosophies that speak most profoundly to our learners. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber




An excerpt of the text may be found here.
Discussion questions by Alexis Elafros at the University of Central Florida can be found here.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi.  Between the World and Me.  New York: Random House, 2015. Print.

Friday, January 22, 2016

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt


Can there be genuine love and affection between foster parents and the children they are caring for?  In One for the Murphys, Lynda Mullaly Hunt explores this type of relationship in a very unique way. Twelve-year-old Carley is taken to the Murphys where she will be living as a foster child while her only known relative, her mother, is in the hospital.  Her social worker, Mrs. MacAvoy, assures her that she will be with an excellent family, but Carley does not believe her and expects the worst. She tries to connect to the Murphys’ way of living and as she adapts she begins to wonder what it would be like to live with this family permanently.  This book is an excellent read for anyone who has ever been in foster care or is considering caring for children in foster care.  Many of the students at Passages will find this story interesting and will be able to connect with Carley.  This book can also be used for a read-aloud.  It has many discussion points that teachers can use. --Elaine Roberts

Hunt, Lynda Mullaly. One For The Murphys. New York: Puffin Books, 2012. Print.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Heroes of Olympus Series by Rick Riordan


Picking up where the Percy Jackson series leaves off, Rick Riordan's Lost Hero series bring in the Roman side of mythology.  According to the Oracles (Greek) and Auguries (Roman), the gods decreed that the demi-gods must never know there are both Roman and Greek demi-gods in the world, and so they have lived in ignorance of each other.  When the Prophecy of Seven brings them together to save Olympus from Gaea, Mother Earth, history comes to light.  Jason, son of Jupiter, teams up with Percy, five other Greek and Roman demi-gods,  and a pugnacious satyr chaperone to cross the Atlantic and take the fight back to Rome, where it began.  It will be the most perilous quest yet.  This battle will either save Olympus, or doom it. --Julie Weber


Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2010. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book One).
Riordan, Rick. The Son of Neptune. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2013. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book Two).
Riordan, Rick. The Mark of Athena. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2014. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book Three).
Riordan, Rick. The House of Hades. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2015. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book Four).
Riordan, Rick. The Blood of Olympus. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2014. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book Five).