Thursday, September 30, 2010

16 On the Block by Babygirl Daniels

Pretty much every day I meet new students in the library at Bridges. It’s their second day of school and I am trying to get to know them as readers. Pretty much everyday two or more new students tell me that their favorite kinds of books to read are “urban” books or “street” books. So, after we run through the Passages’ student canon (another post for another time), I usually try to suggest books in other genres with crossover appeal. I appreciated 16 on the Block because, while I don’t anticipate it joining our canon anytime soon, it is there, for better or worse, for the student who is not ready to try another genre. For this I am grateful and will probably purchase the creatively named sequel, 16 and a Half On the Block.

The story opens with Summer awaiting her judge's decision: will she be released from group care custody and get to live with her only sister? Lots of exposition in the first chapter make this less suited to the less patient. Proofreading errors mar this reader's experience, and the ending was disappointing, but brand names, dramatic circumstances, and tighter pacing during the second half of the book make this a good choice for reluctant readers.

Daniels, Babygirl. 16 on the Block. New York: Kensington, 2009.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman

For anyone who is sure that Columbus was the first to discover the New World, this book presents historical and archaeological evidence to suggest that he was not. Instead of providing answers, more and more questions are raised as the author presents cases suggesting that the Vikings or the Chinese were the first to sail to the Americas, not to mention the Native Americans who had “discovered” the Americas far earlier. A chapter on Columbus also questions traditional understandings of his role as peaceful missionary. Full-color photos of archaeological artifacts, sites, maps, drawings, and paintings allow students to closely examine the evidence themselves.

Freedman, Russell. Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas. New York: Clarion Books, 2007.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Jeff Wall by Peter Galassi

My visits to Passages classrooms usually progress along the following lines: Firstly, we start with an introduction, discussing our own artistic interests and backgrounds. About half the students say they aren’t artistic at all or interested in any sort of art making and, even when we expand upon our definition of what art is (culinary arts, martial arts, graffiti, tattooing, etc.), there are still a number of teens who don’t want to admit to any feelings on the subject at all. No problem, it’s understandable: Art is subjective, and emotional, and demands that those who create it lay their feelings on the table for others to possibly reject. It’s scary. After that, we start looking at art and the teens start opening up, even if only slightly. It’s easier to have an opinion on someone else’s work than to talk about ourselves, so the discussion begins to flow. We talk about Frida Kahlo’s thick eyebrows, Picasso’s pregnant looking girlfriend, and how super painfully skinny Andrew Wyeth’s Christina looks from the back. At the very end of all this, I like to pull out my reproduction of Jeff Wall’s After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue (1999-2000). The image depicts an African-American man, an actor posing as the narrator of Ellison’s book, sitting in his cluttered basement apartment, listening to a record as he cleans a dish. Above him, thousands of light bulbs shine down against his back. What’s he thinking? Why is he there? Why does his room look like it does?
I love the mixture of the mundane and the fantastical in Jeff Wall’s work. If each picture tells a story, then Jeff Wall’s stories are mystery novels. You recognize the world that his subjects inhabit as our own, and yet they feel like nothing you have seen and nowhere you have ever been before. Jeff Wall’s photography book is a great prompt for creative writing projects, discussions, art making and more. I wholeheartedly recommend it to all Passages Academy educators. -- Calder Zwicky

--Calder Zwicky is the Associate Educator, Teen and Community Programs at the Museum of Modern Art. He has been working within Juvenile Detention Centers and running art making workshops with Passages Academy students since 2007.

Galassi, Peter. Jeff Wall. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2007.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America by Sharon Robinson

Who better to write a biography on the iconic Jackie Robinson than his own daughter? Sharon Robinson, the baseball player's only daughter, fills this engaging book with a mix of historical facts and family anecdotes. Robinson uses timelines to outline the history of slavery and integration in baseball, and she discusses her father’s athletic achievements in the context of civil rights and the political climate of the day. Primary source materials are highlighted throughout the text, including letters written by Jackie Robinson, death notes sent to the Robinson family, newspaper pages and plenty of pictures, both from the media and from family albums. All of these documents are shown in photographs – readers will get chills looking at the note written in all caps, “WE HAVE ALREADY GOT RID OF SEVERAL LIKE YOU ONE WAS FOUND IN RIVER JUST RECENTLY” (p. 34). This book could easily be used as a resource to teach primary and secondary source documents, or in units on civil rights, biographies and oral histories.

Robinson, Sharon. Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America. New York: Scholastic, 2004.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Latino USA: A Cartoon History by Illan Stavans Illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz

If you are only going to read only one book on something relating to Latin America during Hispanic Heritage month, please consider picking up Latino USA: A Cartoon History by Ilan Stavans and Illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz. In 167 pages this author/illustrator team demonstrate in high-contrast black and white drawings the grand sweep of Latino/a history in the United States. Beginning with definitions of their terms (What is a Latino? What is America?) the authors proceed to raise the curtain in 1492. Guided by a teacher, a skeleton, an author and a toucan, the reader travels a tour of history, often encountering one or two notable personae or groups or events per page. A thorough table of contents and full index facilitate searching for historical figures, historic periods, or social movements. A great starting point for identifying biographies of interest for further research, for developing a timeline of Latino history in the U.S., or for the culminating question: What can we learn from history?

Stavans, Ilan. Illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz. Latino USA: A Cartoon History. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The implicit accusation that I would bring pornography into my classroom offends me to my core. Melinda, the protagonist of this brilliantly funny and poignant young adult novel, was raped by Andy, a popular upperclassman athlete, the summer before her freshman year in high school; the scene is brief and non-explicit, but visceral. Melinda is then ostracized and becomes both mute and reclusive, expressing herself through her year-long artproject- creating trees out of various media- until she gains the strength to confront her rapist, very loudly. I have taught Speak in my mixed junior high/high school English/Language Arts class and every student- from the shyest, Melinda-est girl to the most aggressive, Andy-est boy- loved it. We completed Melinda's art assignments with her, each of us - myself included- taking an object and drawing it from a new perspective and with new purpose each day before we began our official lessons. As Melinda grew with her tree, so did our class grow with Melinda. Each student, though hesitant to do so at first, came to love sharing his or her literary/art journal with the rest of the class; some even wrote accompanying free-write entries explaining how Melinda's ordeal helped them begin to process injustices they or their loved ones may have experienced. After we finished the novel and our projects, all of the students wrote ebullient letters of thanks to our DonorsChoose benefactors for enabling us to complete this educational unit by providing us with a classsroom set of this title. -- Julia Weber

Guest blogger Julia Weber is an English teacher at Passages Academy's Boys Town site. You can find teaching resources for Speak here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Love Poems by Pablo Neruda

What's not to love about a book of love poems? Even better, a book of love poems by none other than Nobel Laureate and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, with the original Spanish on the left page and the English translation on the right page? Our students ask me for books with love poems all the time -- sometimes they're looking for inspiration for writing their own poetry, and sometimes they're just looking for a poem that describes their own feelings, and they want to share that poem with someone special. When the opportunity to acquire class sets of poetry books for our English teachers came up last year, we recommended this title for the high school groups. It has been a big hit with students, who first fall for the design of the book (it must be about love, it's pink!, but it's also a little flashy and so small it's almost pocket-size), and then they find the poetry inside. This little book is filled with sensual language and beautiful imagery; students will certainly appreciate this particular resource during poetry units, but teachers may also wish to share this book with Spanish-speaking students, or integrate it into the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Neruda, Pablo. Love Poems. New York: New Directions, 2008.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Che: A Graphic Biography by Spain Rodriguez

You have seen his face on t-shirts, posters, hats, and billboards. But why is "Che" the cultural icon that he is today? Ernesto "Che" Guevara's life, from his birth to a middle-class Argentinian family to his death in Bolivia, is documented here in graphic format. Most famous for his part in the Cuban revolution, the reader learns about his pre-revolutionary life, his family life, and his revolutionary efforts in the Congo and Bolivia. Direct quotes from Che are used throughout, some including complex political concepts. While the author's stance is decidedly pro-Che, an epilogue discusses the controversy surrounding the construction of Che's image as either hero or villain using sophisticated language. This volume might best be used during Hispanic Heritage Month, for a Global Studies unit on revolutions, or by a student interested in learning more about the life of Che.

Rodriguez, Spain. Che: A Graphic Biography. New York: Verso, 2008.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bodies From the Bog by James Deem

Imagine bodies thousands of years old that are so well preserved they are mistaken for recent murder victims. Bog bodies have been raising alarm throughout the peat bogs of Northern Europe for just this reason. One man even confessed to killing his wife when he heard that a well-preserved body was found in a bog near his home! Bodies From the Bog contains photos and descriptions of some of the most famous and well-preserved bog bodies. Through brief chapters and accessible language, readers learn why the bog environment is ideal for natural mummification and the theories behind why most of the bodies appear to have met violent deaths. While this is not a book most students would choose independently, its material may be useful for a Living Environment or Global History lesson, and can be found in Passages Academy’s classroom collections.

Deem, James. Bodies From the Bog. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Secret Saturdays by Torrey Maldonado

Has your best friend ever kept a secret from you? A secret so big, everything has changed? Living in the projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Justin and Sean have been best friends ever since Sean stuck up for Justin in a fight in fourth grade. But now Sean's becoming a bully, and he's keeping a secret from Justin. Can their friendship survive all of Sean's lies? Students, middle schoolers especially, will appreciate this real-life, written with real-language, mystery about friendship, school, and growing up in a tough neighborhood. Teachers will no doubt appreciate an exciting new addition to the ever growing collection of great authors and great books that also appeal to our students. This is the first book by Maldonado, a New York City school teacher who treated our students at Passages' Horizon site with a visit last year.

Maldonado, Torrey. Secret Saturdays. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2010.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy DuBurke

An eleven-year-old puts in work to join a gang. Something (his aim?) goes horribly wrong and he accidentally shoots and kills a fourteen-year old girl. He goes into hiding... what happens next? If the suspense is killing you (no pun intended), you might be interested to know that this is a true story, told with the facts by a fictional narrator invented by artist Greg Neri (Yes, that author of Chess Rumble who visited Bridges during a library program several years ago) in a graphic novel. High-contrast illustrations are effectively executed by Randy DuBurke. (Yes, that illustrator of A Graphic Biography of Malcolm X, the author of which visited Boys Town several years ago.) This cautionary tale is woven for middle-schoolers and gets at an issue that is, for better or worse, frequently the elephant in the room in many Passages classrooms and libraries-- gang violence and the innocent victims affected. There are plenty of other meaningful discussion topics broached by Yummy, but I truly don't want to ruin this fast read for you. Suffice it to say I am recommending it to everyone, adults who teach middle-schoolers and the middle-schoolers themselves, because a book like this doesn't come along very often. So exceptional that an exception to our review policy had to be made-- it's a must-read. Even for those of you who have confided to me that you're not partial to graphic novels. Coming soon to a Passages Academy Library near you! Click here for a book trailer with a beat, discussion questions, and an interview with the authors to get a taste.

Neri, G., and Randy DuBurke. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. New York: Lee & Low, 2010.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers by Mordecai Gerstein

Do you remember the twin towers? Would you ever walk on a high wire between them? Didn't think so. Would you believe me if I told you someone did? Ok, you don't have to believe me, but Mordecai Gerstein will tell you the basics in less than 32 beautifully illustrated pages that fold out to enhance the reader's sense of wonder. The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers remains one of my favorite picture books to share with students in Bridges' library because of the sheer unbelievability of the event it documents. It's been a great ice breaker with new students, a good first experience to share with diverse-ability groups, and who doesn't love a chance to realize that someone did something crazier than they ever could have dreamed up? For emergent readers, teachers might find this lesson plan from Scholastic handy as a supplement. With more sophisticated readers, this book is a wonderful inspiration for an inquiry project. Once students have articulated some questions, Phillipe's memoir,To Reach The Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between The Twin Towers, filled with photos of the actual events leading up to and during the main event are on display and will blow some minds. I also recommend the documentary former Passages faculty Geoff Schmidt recommended to me when we co-taught this book: Man On Wire . I have also used this book when co-teaching with English and Art teachers in preparation for students creating their own picture books, often for entry in the Ezra Jack Keats picture book contest. The Man Who Walked is a great example of how framing and white space further the story line.

Gerstein, Mordecai. The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2003.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

The takeover of four flights on the morning of September 11th is recounted with a minute-by-minute graphic timeline, forcing the reader to remember the terror and confusion of that morning as the events unfolded or, in the case of many of our students, to experience them for the first time. From the rise of Usama bin Ladin through to the changes in US anti-terrorist policies post-9/11, the 9/11 Commission's official report provides a detailed account of the structure of US intelligence and security authorities as well as its recommendations for the future of anti-terrorism. Sections would be best used to answer such questions as : What happened on 9/11? Who planned the attacks? And, what is being done to prevent future attacks?

Jacobson, Sid and Ernie Colon. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001 by LIFE

Sometimes, a picture truly can be worth a thousand words. For many of our students, who were quite young on September 11, 2001, this book has been a visual representation of the stories they have heard told by survivors, family and friends of the victims, rescue workers, and others who were affected. It is filled with photographs from the day and brief first and second-hand accounts, as well as a basic timeline of the events. This is by no means a one-stop research tool on the subject, but it would be a wonderful way to supplement other materials, including With Their Eyes: September 11th -- the view from a high school at Ground Zero edited by Annie Thoms; several students from Stuyvesant High School are even pictured within the pages.

Life. One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Guest Post: With Their Eyes Edited by Annie Thoms

Just four blocks from Ground Zero, Stuyvesant High School students witnessed the horrors of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. With Their Eyes presents a collection of twenty-three stories of that day, told by members of the diverse Stuyvesant community including students, teachers and other school personnel. The work was performed in February of 2002, as a two-act play by ten Stuyvesant students and was received with resounding praise from audience members. The heartfelt stories and beautifully arranged poetry leave lasting reminders of what that day's effect has been on each and everyone of us. The illustrations, the Chronology of Events, the photos and stories are compelling and honest and serve as a wonderful springboard for engaging students to relate their own stories of 9/11. I have often used this book with Passages’ students, reading and discussing the Chronology of Events and a selection of essays and poems. After that, students begin drafting and then discussing personal recollections of the days events; ie. how old were they, what grade, what school, what borough they were in. Did they know anyone directly/indirectly involved and how were they involved? A wonderful creative writing tool to use in conjunction with honoring and memorializing the heroes and victims of 9/11. --Mary Lou DeLigio

With Their Eyes: September 11th: the view from a high school at Ground Zero. Ed. Annie Thoms. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson

Lafayette, Charlie and Ty’ree used to be as close as brothers could be, but ever since Charlie came home from two years away in juvenile detention, he’s been angry and mean. The boys have had a difficult life; their father died in a tragic accident when they were younger, and their mother died while Charlie was away. With both parents gone, Ty’ree, the oldest, must leave his college dreams behind so that he can keep what’s left of the family together. This book is reminiscent of The Outsiders; narrated by the youngest, most sensitive brother, it is a story about family and what it really means to have heart.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Miracle’s Boys. New York: Penguin, 2000.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Is Valerie a hero or a murderer? Hate List centers on teenager Valerie Leftman, a recent victim of a school shooting. Valerie's "victimhood" is complicated by the fact that the shooter was her boyfriend Nick, and some of those targeted were named on a hate list that she helped Nick to create. Although, Valerie helps to stop the shooting, inadvertently saving a social rival's life, she definitely isn't seen as a hero when she returns to school, not even by her own family. While the setting and characters may be distant for our students, the story brings up issues of culpability and community that should lead to an interesting book club discussion.

Brown, Jennifer. Hate List. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.

Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi

If you and your students happened to not be down in New Orleans this week five years ago, it might feel a bit faraway. I might very well recommend Hurricane Song to a young adult reader looking for a realistic fiction as the five-year anniversary reports cover the fronts of news media. Author Paul Volponi (Rooftop, Black and White, Rikers High) invites the reader to step into the shoes of a young man encountering Hurricane Katrina. Volponi's writing strikes this reader as fairly wooden, but there are bright moments of fresh language that make it bearable. His talents as a writer center on his selection of subject matter, his ability to help his reader think into things like power on a variety of simple and complicated levels, and his knack for weaving disparate plots, sub-plots, and characters together and apart to a satisfying conclusion. Recommended for middle and high school boys. Pair with Spike Lee's documentary on the same subject, When the Levees Broke (at Summit) and memoirs like Soft Skull's Neighborhood Story Project (at Bridges) for a non-fiction counterpoint.

Volponi, Paul. Hurricane Song. New York: Penguin, 2008.