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.

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.