Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka

Absolutely hilarious and totally relatable. Jon Scieszka invites the reader into his childhood antics growing up as the second oldest in a family of six boys. Family photos often deliver the punch line as Scieszka tells stories about Halloween costumes, school photos, and hand-me-downs. While each of the stories are brief and written in language that is accessible for students with a low reading level, the work maintains a reverence for childhood as a special time from the perspective of someone who has already left it. In this way, it invites even the most disenfranchised students to reflect upon the innocence, silliness, and adventure of childhood without talking down to them. Teachers can easily select one tale to share as a class and invite students to tell their own story.

Scieszka, Jon. Knucklehead: Tall tales & mostly true stories about growing up Scieszka. New York: Viking, 2008.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi

Part non-fiction, part historical fiction, Lutes & Bertozzi begin with an introduction that speaks directly to youth, contextualizing Houdini’s keen marketing strategies in an era when newspapers were the primary form of mass media. With an almost cinematic feel, the graphic text imagines how one of Houdini’s more famous stunts might have been made possible with some help from his beloved wife and his own unrelenting pursuit of fame. Struggling readers may find a successful reading experience within this graphic text. Particularly helpful to teachers are the panel discussions that provide historical information for selected pages of the graphic text. A bibliography is also included.
Lutes, Jason, and Nick Bertozzi. Houdini: The handcuff king. New York: The Center for Cartoon Studies, 2007.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Jack Gantos reflects upon his time spent in a federal prison after he helps sail a boat containing two thousand pounds of hash from the Caribbean to NYC in hopes of earning money for college tuition. Beginning with the circumstances surrounding his bad decision, Gantos addresses how writing helped him to process the harsh experiences of prison life. Focusing on themes of redemption, justice, and rehabilitation, this memoir would be an excellent resource for an evaluation of drug sentencing and prison life.

Gantos, Jack. Hole in My Life. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Guest Blog Post: Where'd You Get Those by Bobbito Garcia

Where’d You Get Those? is Bobbito Garcia’s sociological thesis on sneakers. Part history, part fashion, this oversized volume details New York City sneaker culture from 1960-1987. The 264-page magazine style book is organized chronologically by era. Each section is rich with lively anecdotes, photographs (mostly taken by Mr. Garcia) and vintage advertisements of the times. Mr. Garcia’s writing is an exemplar of voice, cultural capital, and the many journalistic functions of literacy. His book can be used as supplemental text in English, Literacy, Creative writing, Gym and Art classes. Where’d You Get Those? also makes a great addition to a classroom library during independent reading time. --L.A. Gabay

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur

Themes of love, pain and poverty are prevalent in this collection of poetry by famed rap artist Tupac Shakur. His handwritten and illustrated poems (complete with misspellings and edits), appear alongside the printed words, making it less intimidating than polished, "scholarly" poetry. This book gets requested by students who love Tupac and poetry – but it also serves as an introduction to poetry for students who claim they aren’t fans. With lines like, “we R 2 young 2 stress and suffer” (from Nightmares), teens can relate to the casual writing style. Most even look like they were written on lined notebook paper, adding to the accessibility of the entire book. This would be a fantastic lead into a poetry unit, or an engaging resource to demonstrate the editing and revising process.

Shakur, Tupac. The Rose That Grew From Concrete. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Middle Passage by Tom Feelings

"No one can experience it and remain unmoved" reads the inside flap. There are no better words to characterize the power of this visceral, searing, brilliant work. This large format book powerfully conveys more about the horror of this experience through wordless images than any textbook ever could. Feelings, a Brooklyn native whose work hangs behind Crossroads' closed doors, explains his decades-long process efforts to research and create the book in a four-page introduction which may well fascinate a would-be artist. For others, skip the words and dive right into the first image. The volume concludes with a bibliography and a handy map of the African diaspora in the Americas to furnish geographical context. Pair with Spielberg's Amistad (Feelings first, Spielberg second) and Lester's From Slave Ship to Freedom Road and Day of Tears. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No Choirboy by Susan Kuklin

Until 2005, it was legal in the US for children under the age of eighteen to be sentenced to death for their crimes, keeping us in company with seven countries notorious for human rights abuses. Susan Kuklin traveled to maximum-security prisons, bringing us the stories of men sentenced to death as teenagers in their own words. Also included are the stories of the surviving family members of a young man executed prior to 2005, the surviving family members of a victim murdered by teens, and the lawyer who asks, “Are you the sum total of your worst acts?” Many students are drawn into the first-person narratives, allowing them to make connections with the world around them. This resource is ripe for a unit of study on capital punishment and/or juvenile justice.

Kuklin, Susan. No choirboy: Murder, violence, and teenagers on death row. New York: Henry Holt Company, 2000.