Friday, March 23, 2018

Programming Spotlight: Author Gayle Forman Conducts Writing Workshops

Mr. Villaronga, ELA Teacher, students, and Gayle Forman 3/22/18

Gayle listens carefully while a student reads her writing aloud to the group.  Photos: JFS

Gayle Forman, writer of novels for young adults and local author with the international reputation, has been visiting with Passages Academy--Belmont’s Rose group once a month this school year.  She concluded another inspiring visit yesterday morning by giving each of the young women present a copy of her newest creative work, Pour Your Heart Out

A guided journal full of the undeniably engaging prompts she gives like gifts in her workshops, and accompanied by gorgeous illustrations, the girls were pretty excited to receive them. Honestly, they were even more excited to write with Gayle, who also read aloud from her new novel. I cannot wait to read it when it comes out later this week. Pre-ordering now. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Brazen: Rebel Ladies who rocked the world by Penelope Bagieu

Students who are hungry to read more comics and curious to learn more about amazing historical figures from around the world will be eager to get their hands on this collective biography and graphic novel translated from the French.  What’s most notable about this title, beyond its gorgeous colors and fast pacing, are the women included; Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Marian Anderson make way for Nzinga, Lars Mariposas, Josephine Baker, Temple Grandin and Betty Davis.  Also included are Mae Jemison, and Sonita Alizadeh.  Each 8-panel biography is followed by a full-bleed artistic two-page spread and Bagieu’s diverse French sensibilities shine through everywhere, including a more European embrace of female sexuality.  Back matter includes an author’s bio told in two panels and a list of thirty additional names of women who “rocked the world.”  Educators may consider pressing these two items into service to engage students in inquiry projects and as a model for drafting their own bio of their future self.  It is worth mentioning that as sensitive as the writer is at handling topics of abuse and poverty, they are included and undeniably relayed from the author’s point of view. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Bagieu, Penelope.  Brazen: Rebel ladies who rocked the world.  New York: First Second Publishing, 2018. Print.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Closest I’ve Come by Fred Aceves

Sophomore Marcos Rivas hasn’t had a girlfriend yet and he wonders when his turn will come.  Growing up in economic poverty in Tampa, FL, he suspects that the two realities may be intertwined.  Navigating the social scene, as well as his current status as underachiever and trouble-maker is tough enough in the environment of an average American high school, but coming home each day to his mom’s racist, abusive boyfriend presents an even greater challenge.   How will Marcos deal with this man his mother has welcomed into their home?  How will he get through the school days where he is mesmerized by Amy, a bold and tenacious classmate?  Exploring themes of toxic masculinity and emotionally immature parents, Aceves’ first novel will appeal to competent teen readers who are searching for a new independent read as well as insight into the challenges typically faced by adolescents everywhere.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Aceves, Fred.  The Closest I’ve Come.  New York: Harper Collins. 2017.  Print.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Image result for the stars beneath our feet

Moore, David Barclay. The Stars Beneath Our Feet. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

Everyone has noticed that Wallace "Lolly" Rachpaul feels angry all of the time, ever since his older brother Junior was shot and killed a few months before. It doesn't help that Junior leaves Lolly to deal with an unresolved argument between the two brothers. But when his mother's girlfriend starts bringing bags and bags of Legos home from her job at a toy store, Lolly, along with a strange and quiet girl named Rose, escapes into the construction of his own alternate world. Just when Lolly starts to feel that stone of anger disappear from his chest, his values are tested and he is forced to choose between following Junior's path or seeking out another. this novel would be a good independent reading selection for middle-grade students that appreciate reads dealing with internal struggle. --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hidden Figures Younger Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly

In this younger readers’ edition of her popular adult non-fiction title, researcher and writer Shetterly makes the fruits of her seven-years research available to anyone who has not yet developed the vocabulary and stamina to consume her original text. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race is rendered accessible in this version to anyone able to read and understand English text on a fourth-grade reading level. Wider margins, double-spaced text, and simplified language make the 198-page book a natural pick for students who are able to comprehend non-fiction narrative but not yet ready to tackle the original title intended for sophisticate readers. Many readers will already be familiar with the story of several African-American omen who bravely contributed their talents to NASA and eventually send the US into space for the first time while confronting horrendous racism and sexism at work. Back matter includes an index, a glossary, suggested further reading, and source notes as well as a timeline, lending itself well to instruction on previewing texts as well as providing a wealth of support for less-experienced readers. Highly recommended for book clubs, interdisciplinary reading initiatives, and independent readers reading at upper-elementary levels and beyond. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Shetterly, Margot Lee.  Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.  New York: Harper, 2016. Print.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Programming Spotlight: Pre-theater and Post-Theater Visits from the New Victory Theater

Stepping during a pre-theater visit on 11/6/17.

A gallery walk during a post-theater visit on 11/13/17.

On November 8th we teachers and our administrators took all of our students at Passages Academy--Belmont to the New Victory Theater to see Step Afrika’s The Migration: Reflections On Jacob Lawrence.  The performance blended step, jazz, and African choreography with jazz, African, and gospel music to bring panels from Jacob Lawrence’s essential Migration Series to life for a young audience.  When I asked students what they thought of the show one student, D., responded by telling me the next time I take her to a dance performance, it needs to be longer.  Presumably so that she may enjoy it all the more.

We weren’t able to take pictures inside the theater, but here are a couple of moments we captured of the New Victory’s excellent pre-theater and post-theater workshops provided by teaching artists Chad Beckim and Janet Onyenucheya.  Pre-theater workshops  included step dancing exercises which helped students identify what they would see and appreciate the depth of performers skill and preparation.  Post-theater workshops invited students to engage with Lawrence’s artwork and recreate poses from selected panels, and think about how it feels to experience the poses of the figures from the paintings.  Click here for more photos and more about the interdisciplinary collaboration--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Billie: A Memoir by Billie King

Growing up is always hard, but for Billie it was especially difficult. At the age of 10, she already has to protect her mother from her abusive father and learn the ugly truth about her always distant sister, Nia. One day Billie, her mom, and sister finally decide to leave it all behind and move to a new neighborhood, but that's when the real problems begin. Their new neighborhood is slowly changing from a decent place to live to a crack-infested ghetto and Billie's mom starts to spiral out of control. She's barely home and the days that she is home, she spends in her room sleeping, caring very little for Billie and Nia. This is Billie King’s story as she tries to find her way through life and grow up in the middle of a dysfunctional family, riddled with both physical and sexual abuse, drugs and poverty. Billie: A Memoir is a rough read; there are some detailed graphic scenes which make this book more suitable for mature high school readers. Students who enjoyed reading Random Family and Tweak should pick this one up. --Claudio Leon

King, Billie. Billie: A Memoir. Beverly Hills: PRK Publishing, 2014. Print.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Saving Marty by Paul Griffin

It takes a runt pig, Marty, for Lorenzo the protagonist in Paul Griffin’s latest novel, Saving Marty, to reveal his belief in the importance of friendship and the value he places on it.  Lorenzo, who is an eleven year old boy, lacks confidence in his abilities and social skills.  However, he has become overwhelmed by a fervent desire to defend and protect his pet pig, that pretends to be a dog, from his mother who wants to sell the pig for much needed cash.  Marty, who is more a friend than a pet, has helped Lorenzo fill a tremendous gap in his life left void by the loss of his father.
     Lorenzo knows Marty trusts and depends on him.  Marty’s reliance on Lorenzo has compelled him to guard and keep Marty from the butcher’s knife.  Lorenzo needs to use all his resources to find a way to save Marty.  Lorenzo has to find an immediate solution to save his pet, but his resources are very limited and he has a very short time.
This book will appeal to students in middle school, grades 6 - 8, looking for realistic stories. --Elaine Roberts

Griffin, Paul. Saving Marty. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Young Readers group, An Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2017. Print.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Guest Post: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

The morning after Will’s brother, Shawn, is shot and killed, Will steps onto the elevator with a gun tucked into his pants, knowing what he has to do. Will is pretty sure a guy named Riggs killed Shawn, and he is definitely sure it is his responsibility to do the same to Riggs. But on the long ride down, Will is joined by unexpected visitors in the elevator, making him question whether killing Riggs is really what he owes Shawn. Reynolds’ latest book is written in verse, using brief and powerful free verse phrasing to detail Will’s struggle with carrying out the rules that have been instilled in him his whole life. The format should work well for both independent reading and for read-alouds, as well as for a unit on free verse forms and structure. While some readers may be frustrated by the book’s ending, it (and the nature of who Will meets on the elevator) provides ample opportunity for group discussion and creative writing activities. A good choice for readers who may find Reynolds’ previous work too literary.--Vikki Terrile

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

Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Atheneum, 2017. Print

Vikki Terrile has been a public librarian for almost twenty years and is currently the Director of Children and Teen Programs and Services for the Queens Library.  Right now, she is reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (eight pages a day, so she should be finished by New Year’s) and Undocumented: A Dominican Boy's Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League by Dan-el Padilla Peralta.  She dreams of one day owning an alpaca farm and cat rescue.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Great Migration: An American Story Paintings by Jacob Lawrence

The Great Migration: An American Story is a picture book collecting the sixty panels Lawrence painted over seventy years ago to tell the story of the period in American history which saw huge numbers of African Americans leave the South for northern industrial cities.  The numbered panels are accompanied by short text.  Although the picture book format is frequently shunned by older students afraid of appearing less mature than they are, I have not heard that complaint from a single adolescent student at Belmont where the books were distributed this week.  Highly recommended for young people of all ages, this book begins with a two-page preface authored by the artist himself in 1992 and closes with a poem on the topic of the Great Migration by Walter Dean Myers, and short paragraphs about the artist, the poet, and the art.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Lawrence, Jacob.  The Great Migration: An American Story.  New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1993.  Print.