Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Thanks for keeping up with us in 2011! We'll be back with what's good in 2012 on Jan. 3.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What’s Good?: Exciting news about a former student!

from left to right: Lauren Adelman, MoMA Educator; P. showing off her sculpture; Ben Petty, Passages Academy Art Teacher; Alan Calpe, MoMA Teaching Artist. Behind them are more pieces from the Body/Building: Sculpture as Self-Portrait class that P. participated in.

Through our Community Partnership with MoMA, one of our former students applied, was accepted, and just completed a ten-week art class at the museum as a Community Scholar. Her work is on display right now along with all of the other teen participants’ work in the Education and Research Building (54th Street entrance, downstairs). Ben Petty, her Art Teacher while she was at Passages, and I went to the opening on Friday night and were thrilled to see her and her beautiful work. She gave me this quote about her experience in the Teen Program: “MoMA is a great experience. Your imagination equals beautiful spontaneous art.”  --Anja Kennedy

Friday, December 16, 2011

Guest Post: We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction by Nic Sheff

Nic Sheff and his father, David Sheff, appeared on the addiction/recovery literary scene in January 2009, when they published Tweak and Beautiful Boy, respectively. In We All Fall Down: Living With Addiction, Nic Sheff continues the story of his addiction, this time beginning with a knock on a drug dealer’s door—exactly where he hoped he would never be when he wrote the epilogue to Tweak. We All Fall Down is the story of relapse and the struggle not just to get sober, but also to stay sober or, more accurately, to live sober. Less dramatically drug-fueled than its predecessor, We All Fall Down describes Nic’s tenuous relationship with twelve-step programs (like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous) and with non-substance-related addictions that threaten his sobriety (read: girls. especially newly sober girls).

We All Fall Down is a memoir that resonates with many of the incarcerated youth I work with. When I asked the students about their favorite books, three girls described how they passed We All Fall Down around eagerly. Specifically, they enjoyed the fact that it was “hopeful,” “not just about drugs” and “realistic—it didn’t act like [getting sober] was super easy.” Creative writing and/or English teachers can use sections of this book as an engaging introduction to creative non-fiction and, of course, the value and trappings of such difficult self-exposure. If read alongside his father’s work, students can also get a good sense of how life events are multi-dimensional and of how context impacts how reality is perceived. --Katie MacBride

Katie MacBride is the Young Adult Librarian at the Mill Valley Public Library in Marin County, California. She also volunteers at the Marin County Juvenile Hall, where she brings books and offers reader's advisory services. She teaches a creative writing class at both the public library and the juvenile hall.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rikers High by Paul Volponi

What does a typical day look like for the hundreds of teens awaiting sentencing on Rikers Island? What happens behind all that barbed wire and security? Our students are understandably curious, and this book, while fictional, paints a picture of one teen’s experience. The main character is Martin Stokes, a seventeen year-old who has never before been in any real trouble, and he has recently been arrested for a “bubblegum charge” -- he was taken in by an undercover police officer for “steering” him to buy drugs in the neighborhood. While on Rikers, Martin witnesses and is the victim of extreme violence, is forced to attend school, and tries his best in the midst of all this to figure out a plan to survive the system and get released. Luckily, Martin has a strong head on his shoulders, clear vision, and a supportive family at home.

Our students are certainly able to relate to Martin’s feelings of just trying to get through the day, of being frustrated with the justice system, and of being homesick. They are huge fans of many of Paul Volponi’s books, and in the last couple of weeks, two of our high school classes have been reading Rikers High in preparation for a Skype meeting with the author. --Anja Kennedy

Friday, December 9, 2011

Guest Post: Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

Can you imagine being dragged out of your bed in the middle of the night, getting handcuffed and driven to a teenage boot camp, completely against your will? In Todd Strasser’s Boot Camp, Garrett is dropped off at Lake Harmony, a reform school that promises to change any child into the one their parents want. From day one, Garrett is tortured, beaten and humiliated— all tools the staff use to bend the will of the teens in Lake Harmony’s “care.” Everyone has a choice at Lake Harmony, either thrive by accepting the brainwashing or get beaten down daily. Garrett has to figure out how to survive without losing himself.
Todd Strasser tells a graphic story about the unconstitutional tactics and beliefs of boot camps that exist across America. These camps make expensive promises to parents they have to meet, sometimes at deadly costs for the children. Parents and teens everywhere will appreciate the honesty in this book and will learn to value the importance of communication in their relationships. -- Denice Martin

Denice Martin-Thompson is a Reading Specialist at Passages Academy’s Summit site in the Bronx. She’s the creator of RAW- Ready, Able & Willing to Read and Write, an intervention service for Pre-K--Adults and she is also a published poet. Struggling to Survive The Story of a First Year Teacher Told Through Poetry is available here. Her passion for the arts comes alive in her writing; she believes in the liberating power of poetry and hopes to self publish her other titles one day. You can read more about Ms. Martin-Thompson by visiting her website here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

King George: What Was His Problem?: The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution by Steve Sheinkin

This book is the perfect antidote to every boring, poorly contextualized, and heavily sanitized textbook telling of our nation’s birth forced on students across this expansive country. Readers are taken through the entire American Revolution, from the reviled Stamp Act of 1765 through the battles at Lexington and Concord in 1775, to the British surrender in Yorktown in 1781. All of the essential historical information is here, accurately revealed through a series of personal stories, sprinkled liberally with quotes and conversations, bringing to life the main players in this grand saga. It also features a “Whatever Happened to...” section with pithy biographies of key figures in the Revolution. King George: What Was His Problem? is both a satisfying read and an excellent resource for research, as it is well-indexed with copious source notes. Don’t let the abundance of bibliographic material keep you from picking up this very amusing and enlightening history. --Regan Schwartz

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Alex Rider: Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz

One of our graphic novel readers has been asking for the next book to this series for some time now, so I decided to see what the buzz was all about. Alex Rider connected with my younger self, and from the beginning to the end the novel reads like a film. Alex Rider: Point Blank is the second book in the Alex Rider series; so far only three titles have been adapted as comics from the original series. The central story from the original books remains, albeit shortened. Alex Rider is a teenager and a secret agent of the British organization MI6. As cool as this sounds, for Alex this is a curse more than a gift because he has to work twice as hard to maintain his grades. Readers are engaged quickly through the introduction, where Alex catches some bad guys using unorthodox methods, which get him into trouble with his own agency. The story evolves at a fast pace and adds a few layers of complexity. There are some plot twists which readers may or may not see coming. This graphic novel is colorful and vivid, and that’s definitely part of the appeal-- all the gadgets, explosions and action in the novel are exciting, largely due to the artwork. --Claudio Leon

Friday, December 2, 2011

Where We'll Be: The Biblioball

Dear Readers,

We would like to invite you to join us at the best party in NYC tomorrow night, the Desk Set's Biblioball.

Who: Librarians and librarian lovers
What: Sets from DJs Duane Harriott, Shakey, John XI, Marty McSorley, Mikey Post, Brian Blackout, Jimmy T; The return of the Fancy Pants Raffle; The premiere of “S is for Shhhhh…” an original short film in the Noir style; Jeremy Balderson takes your portrait in front of Gilbert Ford’s one-of-a-kind backdrop; Make your own Origami Corsage and so much more1
Where: The Bell House, Brooklyn
When: 8pm-4am
Why: Because we like you. And you like books. And proceeds support Literacy for Incarcerated Teens

Click here to purchase a ticket before they sell out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Home Again, Home Again

Welcome back to library team member and blog writer Claudio Leon! He flew home from Mexico yesterday after attending the FIL conference thanks to a travel grant from ALA and our principal's commitment to excellence in school library services to readers who read en espanol. We hope to have these books and dozens more on our shelves soon!--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Programming Spotlight: Bai Xi at the New Vic

Yesterday, two extremely talented teaching artists from The New Victory Theater visited two groups of students at our Boys Town site. Students had a great time with trust-building exercises and balancing activities.

Boys Town faculty, staff, and students had the opportunity to share in a phenomenal Chinese circus experience today. One of our students was invited to the stage to dance and complete hat tricks!--Tyler Hamilton

Bai Xi opens to the general public tomorrow on December 2 and will run through January 1, 2011. It's not too late to get tickets!

Photo Credit: Aubrey Haynes

Tyler Hamilton teaches Math at Passages Academy's Boys Town site. He coordinated today's trip and enjoyed it immensely himself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Programming Spotlight: Untapped!

Today marks the last of our school trips to see Untapped, a high-energy music and dance performance at the New Victory Theater in Times Square. All told, six of Passages' nine sites made the trip and we can’t wait to come back!--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Photo Credit: Andrew Fee

Friday, November 18, 2011

Illustrations from the Inside by The Beat Within

It only takes a pencil and paper to create artwork that moves, inspires, and wows. Nothing flashy here -- just some really talented, locked-up teenagers who have shared their art with The Beat Within, a group that describe themselves as a program that “provide[s] incarcerated youth with consistent opportunity to share their ideas and life experiences in a safe space that encourages literacy [and] self-expression...” Aside from the introduction, which is written in a scholarly and academic tone, and clearly not directed towards incarcerated youth, this book has huge appeal for our students. They pore over the art on every page; all pencil drawings which are generally in a style they recognize and of the quality they aspire to in their own work. Our students are impressed by the skill represented in this book, but not too intimidated to continue drawing; rather, the art inspires them to practice more. Unfortunately, Illustrations from the Inside is only available in hardcover, which means it can only be made available for our students in non-secure detention. --Anja Kennedy

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Your Face: The Culture of Beauty and You by Shari Graydon

Beauty is a loaded concept. Defined by culture, media, and personal aesthetic, and constantly shifting, we all seem to know it when we see it and we definitely know it when we don’t. From birth we are told stories about beauty that lead us to believe it will make us happier, kinder, more successful, and simply better. In the pursuit of beauty men and women have starved, bound, painted, and mutilated themselves. But is beauty all it’s cracked up to be?

In In Your Face, Shari Graydon takes on our beauty culture, from the brothers Grimm to Hollywood, touching on the changing ideal body through the ages, the development of cosmetics, beauty contests, body modification, and the photo-retouching age. As Graydon takes the reader through this history, she discusses the powers-that-be behind the modern idea of beauty and gives readers excellent advice for reading magazines and advertisements critically.

Part self-help, part critical cultural analysis, and part information literacy workbook, In Your Face is an accessible and well-researched primer for anyone ready to question the beauty ideal. --Regan Schwartz

Graydon, Sherri. 2006. In Your Face: The Culture of Beauty and You. New York: Annick Press.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stan Lee's How to Draw Comics by Stan Lee

Know how to draw? Tired of the same old tips? Well, you’re in luck! Unlike other drawing books out there, Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics doesn’t drill the same old basic skills. In fact, there are only a few dedicated pages to teaching the reader how to draw characters from scratch. Instead, this book takes a more advanced approach by discussing points of view, lighting, shading, custom creating and many more areas of drawing that have made Marvel characters so recognizable and their comics so exciting to read. Because the book spends the majority of the time addressing more advanced techniques, the information might go over the heads of newer artists. This book is recommended for those artists who are ready for a level or two up from trace-and-draw style books. -- Claudio Leon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

After by Amy Efaw

It’s 7am and Devon is lying on the couch instead of getting ready for high school when her mom comes home from her graveyard shift. Devon says she isn’t feeling well and her mom doesn’t wonder if she’s faking it. A few moments later a knock at the door causes her mom to usher a police officer inside their home. The police officer is seeking information regarding a newborn baby that was found in the trash next to their apartment complex earlier that morning. He pulls back the blanket covering Devon and discovers her blood seeping through her clothes and onto the couch beneath. Devon is quickly arrested and charged with attempted murder, among other things. The prosecution request that Devon be tried as an adult for her heinous crime. Efaw’s novel is a harrowing read for a new parent. Students may appreciate the psychological state of shock and Devon’s resilience as she navigates her court dates and incarceration at the juvenile detention center. End notes from the author discuss her seven year journey to pen the novel and the research she did on the subject of mothers abandoning newborns provide real-life context.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary by Sue Young

Writers’ block? Stuck searching for the perfect rhyme? For poets and lyricists alike, this has been the go-to book in the library to complete rhymes -- in song lyrics, raps and poems. While the listed rhyming words are by no means exhaustive, there are many suggestions to get the writer past the stuck phase. Its simple organization allows most readers and searchers to find a little help without the frustration that can come with using more complex reference guides. For instance, to find a rhyme for “hawk,” just look for the guide “ock” to see “clock, crock, doc, dock, etc.” The index in the back of the book tells the reader to search “ock” and not “awk.” Looking for another way to use this handy volume? Some students just consult the list and build their rhymes from there. Who wouldn’t be inspired to write something after reading the list “crinkle, sprinkle, twinkle, wrinkle, periwinkle, Rip Van Winkle?” --Anja Kennedy

Young, Sue. The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary. New York: Scholastic, 1994.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Guest Post: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Sean Covey offers some insight into how to live a more productive and meaningful life. As we make life-altering decisions, navigate personal challenges and embrace the potential for a brighter future, students can look to many of Covey's concrete suggestions about what brings about true happiness and success. Though life's obstacles can often seem insurmountable, Covey simultaneously shows teens how even the smallest choices impact their lives in positive ways. The book helps the reader consider their private and public persona to analyze how both sides of ourselves can help and hinder us…and what to do about that. The book supports both classroom instruction and personal exploration. Teachers might engage a whole class in a reading of Part I, Habit II, “Be Proactive,” debating whether or not individuals they encounter in the units and their lives did or did not abide by this principle of “being proactive”. Students can use the book to explore a topic such as “goals” or “abuse” to help them make good decisions for their lives. The book's graphics, activities and quotes can be used both for personal reflection and as tools to empower students to take action. I personally like how the book opens with a consideration of our paradigms and principles and how it ends, with positivity and hope. --Tara Ramirez

Tara Ramirez is the author of the English Language Arts curriculum currently in use at Passages. She has 13 years experience working with teens and educators. You can reach her at for any comments and questions.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Crap. How to deal with annoying teachers, bosses, backstabbers, and other stuff that stinks by Erin Elizabeth Conley, Karen Macklin, and Jake Miller

Need advice on dealing with life’s ups and downs? Sugar-coated aphorisms and uplifting stories not for you? Crap may be just what you’ve been looking for. Once readers get past the title and the very unappetizing color of this petite book, they will find a treasure trove of very useful advice for dealing with life’s unpleasantness. Crap’s snappy chapter titles include “What is this crap?” and “Breaking the stank cycle” and it is sprinkled liberally with quotes and sidebars about actual biological waste, making it both an easy-to-navigate tool and a very quick read. One might expect a book so irreverently titled and taking such joy in its wordplay to be little more than an amusement, but Crap is packed with insightful psychological observations and concrete suggestions for dealing with the negative in school, work, and play. For example: “We fear failure so much that we often decide to do nothing instead of risk failing. But if you don’t take chances, you’ll never live up to your full potential (and you’ll become the recipient of more and more crap).” This is followed by a step-by-step guide to over coming a fear of failure. All in all, Crap is a fast, funny, and motivating read.--Regan Schwartz

Conley, Erin Elisabeth; Macklin, Karen; Miller,Jake. Crap: How to deal with annoying teachers, bosses, backstabbers, and other stuff that stinks. San Fransisco: Zest Books. 2009

Monday, October 31, 2011

What's Good?: Spotlight Interview: Regan Schwartz

Passages Academy Libraries couldn't be happier to have a new librarian on our team. Please meet Regan Schwartz, who has re-ignited Passages' library at Crossroads since September and enriches the team through her numerous contributions. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

JFS: Can you tell enews readers a little bit about your background in teaching and what you were doing last school year?

RS: Sure! I've been teaching English as a Second Language to middle schoolers for the past seven years in Queens. I have spent the last four years working exclusively to provide ESL services to students with disabilities in self-contained and inclusion settings. For the last three years I have also been working my school's library, helping to automate it and get the first RFID system in New York City's public schools up and running. It was volunteering my time there, doing readers advisory and collection development that inspired me to start my own library journey.

What is your favorite thing to read and your favorite place to read?

I feel like such a librarian stereotype - but I really do read anything and everything. Right now my favorite thing to read is anything by Terry Pratchett, and my favorite place to do so is curled up in the corner of my couch, with my dog at my side and the morning light pouring over my shoulder.

What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?

RS: That is a tough question. I'd say Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block and The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. The first for showing me this amazing, magical world full of love and whimsy. The second for introducing me to the idea of social justice. And for descriptive language so precise, I could taste the Oklahoma dirt in my suburban bedroom air.

JFS: What do you like to do for fun when you're not reading?

RS: I recently adopted a senior, half-blind dog with some severe behavioral issues. He was found on the streets of Queens right in the middle of this snowy winter and came to us with a lot of baggage. Working with him and our trainer has been my all-consuming hobby for the last few months! I also enjoy painting, and baking!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Site!

Best parent-teacher conferences yet! On Wednesday and Friday, families arriving to meet with teachers picked up a free indestructible and wordless picture book (thank you LIT! thank you Workman publishing!), signed up for library cards and the Imagination Library program, and helped themselves to handouts on library programs and literacy development. Michael Blake, Assistant Principal, Passages Academy--Horizon, shows off his love of reading with six new NYPL cards-- one for each member of his family.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Updated Report of Observations Which Somehow Seem to Reflect Abstractly on Life (Stat 2) by Sarah McNeil

Graphic representations of data abound in non-fiction, reports, and they have been highlighted recently at the Museum of Modern Art’s Talk to Me exhibit. Students are constantly asked to interpret pie charts and bar graphs, but rarely do they have as much fun with them as McNeil in this ½ size zine. In a very uncluttered presentation, McNeil graphs personally relevant information like “Books I’ve Read & Finished This Year” & “People I Usually Talk to in a Day” as pie charts, “Tattoos” (which plots “Tattoos I Have” against “Level of Regret”) as a line graph, and throws in a bar graph on podcasts in an effort to gain new perspective on her life. This zine includes a table of contents and an author’s note, and, as Passages’ own Brendan Daly pointed out, it makes a great companion to the hilarious Graphjam.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror: Spine-Tingling Spooktacular by Matt Groening

The Treehouse of Horror series, a special publication within the regular Simpsons comic book series, may be perfect for Halloween, but the books excite readers all year long. Since acquiring a handful of these last year, they have been some of the most often-handled, picked up and flipped through books in the library. Some students ask if we have any books based on TV shows, and these and the Boondocks comics are among the first that I point them towards. Described by one student as “mad colorful,” these Simpsons comics are eye-catching, in sharp contrast to the black and white art of the Boondocks. Presented as episodes that stand alone, each segment allows for bite-sized enjoyment. In Spine-Tingling Spooktacular, ELA teachers might want to look for the Simpsons’ take on Kafka’s classic Metamorphosis, where Homer turns into a bug-breath beetle. --Anja Kennedy

Monday, October 24, 2011

100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces from the Editors of American Heritage Dictionaries

How do you say mischievous? Or epoch? Or chaise lounge, for that matter (lovely to sit on, excruciating to pronounce)? And, perhaps more importantly, how are we supposed to say them? As someone who learned most of the “ten dollar” words she knows from reading them, I have a long and embarrassing history of very public mispronunciations. I am happy to say those days have come to an end, thanks to this slim volume of phonetically confounding words. Each entry gives the accepted pronunciations as well as a history of the word’s usage and the explanation for the popular mispronunciations we all hear and use. Not only is this a helpful guide to pronunciation, it is a fascinating and accessible bit of etymology - so much so I actually read it cover to cover! --Regan Schwartz

Friday, October 21, 2011

Onsite! BRC

One of Passages’ new sites, Brooklyn Residential Center, (I should say “new to Passages,” because the OCFS site has been around awhile) has a new mural. Photo courtesy of Mr. B, who also shared this quote from one of the students who planned the artwork: “I chose wings for this mural because to me it means this program is just starting. It is lifting off like if a baby bird hatched out of its egg and took off to fly for the first time and was successful at it. " --R. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Programming Spotlight: BPL Kidsmobile

Earlier today two groups of students at Boys Town had the pleasure of climbing aboard the Brooklyn Public Library's Kidsmobile. Lee Gabay, English Teacher, was momentarily allowed behind the wheel for a photo op. 100% of the students who evaluated the program said they would describe it as “very good” or “excellent.”

Bleach by Tite Kubo

Just finished reading all fifty-something volumes of the Naruto manga series? I’d recommend Bleach. The similarities are embedded deeply within the story, but they are certainly there. Bleach is about a teenager in high school who is one of the most powerful guardians on Earth. Ichigo, the main character, can see the dead souls that failed to travel to the afterlife and are now trapped in our world torturing the living. It is Ichigo’s job to help them cross over by helping them finish the task that is keeping them earthbound. This is the beginning of a complex story line that entwines loyalty, betrayal, family drama and eventually the fate of the world hanging in the balance, while waiting for Ichigo to find his true strength to conquer it all. Like Naruto, Ichigo must look within himself to overcome the challenges that will test his will and rely on his friends to face the plot twists that take the readers for a long and amazing ride. As is typical in manga this one is drawn in black and white. --Claudio Leon

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Food Play by Saxton Freymann

No words are necessary in this fun, and strange, little book of photographs depicting creatures made exclusively out of food. With ordinary fruits and vegetables, Freymann creates a fantasy world where a little mushroom person can fly with the help of a radish balloon and a school of bell pepper fish swim through the page. Perfect for anyone in need of a smile, this book has brought just that to plenty of non-readers, reluctant readers, proficient readers, and everyone else in between. It’s a definite stress-free read. --Anja Kennedy

Freymann, Saxton. Food Play. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2006.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Angry Black White Girl: reflections on my mixed race identity by Nia

In five photocopied pieces of 8.5 x 11’’ paper, Nia’s zine is a breath of fresh air for readers looking for a short, honest, non-fiction perspective of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Two pages are quotes, two pages are Aaron McGruder comic strips, and the balance of this half-size zine (no staples! thank you!) is full of direct talk from a woman who knows how to speak her mind in a zine, and some anecdotes detailing her self-imposed silencing in real life. Informative and instructive in both form and content. Coming to Summit Friday. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Monday, October 17, 2011

Response by Paul Volponi

With one brutal swing of a baseball bat, Noah Jackson’s life is changed forever. Having headed over the town line into nearly all-white Hillsboro to boost a car, Noah ends up the victim of a vicious, racist trio of teens. Now he has a chance to turn his life around and stand for something bigger than a quick payday. What will be Noah’s response?

Volponi’s short novel is a fast, accessible read, that works hard to ground the concept of a hate crime in relatable life experience. While some of the characters are flat and lack the nuance that would make Response a revelation, it is nonetheless an engaging read that leaves the reader hungry for more. Fans of Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Draper will enjoy this book, but students who are eager for grittier novels, such as Tyrell or Ten Mile River, may be left unsatisfied. Educators may find Response a useful companion piece for a unit seeking to address hate crimes in a modern, urban context. --Regan Schwartz

Friday, October 14, 2011

Show Me The Money! by Sian Keogh

Like moths to a flame, enthusiastic and reluctant readers alike are drawn to this ever-popular title. Essentially a game, each two-page spread challenges the reader to find a specific number of dollars or euros. Much like the perennially popular Where’s Waldo? series, Keogh’s books appear easy enough to draw you in and prove challenging enough to keep you glued to their full-color pages. Unlike the better known series, this book, along with the similarly formatted Hunt the Cupcake! and Find the Golf Balls feature answer keys at the end to the fifty photo puzzles, offering sweet relief to the easily frustrated. Perfect for National Gaming Day and recreational independent reading for all ages.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Keogh, Sian. Show Me the Money! New York: Firefly Books, 2009.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Guest Post: You Don't Even Know Me by Sharon G. Flake

The boy code of silence is broken, and a perfect blend of powerful poems and short stories written by boys is created in Sharon G. Flake’s You Don’t Even Know Me. In this book, Flake gets us to contemplate on what it really means to know someone. The boys in this book share their stories of foster care, thoughts of suicide, obesity, unplanned pregnancy, love, revenge and the need to be understood with us in hopes of being accepted into our world. This book is a great invitation for all our boys to read and rise and write and inspire. I highly recommend You Don’t Even Know Me as a good read, especially for our reluctant readers. Sharon G. Flake did it again and this time the voices of boys is heard loud and clear. --Denice Martin-Thompson

Denice Martin-Thompson is a Reading Specialist at Passages Academy’s Summit site in the Bronx. She’s the creator of RAW- Ready, Able & Willing to Read and Write, an intervention service for Pre-K--Adults and she is also a published poet. Struggling to Survive The Story of a First Year Teacher Told Through Poetry is available here. Her passion for the arts comes alive in her writing; she believes in the liberating power of poetry and hopes to self publish her other titles one day. You can read more about Ms. Martin-Thompson by visiting her website here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Programming Spotlight: NYPL Visits Horizon

Today we are wrapping up a record-setting 12-consecutive group visits (over the course of two days) from the New York Public library at Horizon. Ms. Jeanine Thomas and Mr. Avondale Dyer of NYPL’s Mott Haven branch have been so good to our students and it has been such a treat to connect with them. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Paranormal Caught on Film by Dr. Melvyn Willin

“What is that? Is that real?” Students ask these questions every time they open this book to photographs of what really look like ghosts, apparitions, and other unexplainable visions caught on film. In his introduction, Dr. Melvyn Willin welcomes the reader to “the world of the extremely weird.” He doesn’t claim that all of the photographs represent paranormal activities, but he does give each one the opportunity to convince the reader with its companion story. Each photographic mystery is assigned a chapter: Ghostly Figures, Strange Lights & Apparitions, Simulacra, The Unexplained, and Back From the Dead, and is then paired with the context or history in which the image was captured. This book has plenty of material for students to wonder at; be sure to steer them to the text for the full experience. --Anja Kennedy

Willin, Dr. Melvyn. The Paranormal Caught on Film. Cincinnati, OH: David & Charles, 2008.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Lakshmi has spent all of her thirteen years in her small village in the mountains of Nepal, working hard and trying to make the best of things despite her thoughtless, gambling step-father. But when the family loses what little they have in a monsoon, her stepfather’s solution is to sell Lakshmi into prostitution. Thinking she is going to the city to work as a maid, Lakshmi ends up captive in a brothel in Calcutta, told she must earn her way free.

Told in captivatingly sparse free-verse, Lakshmi’s story unfolds in a series of powerful vignettes. Through Lakshmi the reader meets a cast of richly detailed supporting characters, who create a vivid world where Lakshmi’s struggle for freedom and justice comes to life.

Sold is a very intense look at the realities of child sex trafficking. While McCormick deals very sensitively and honestly with an incredibly difficult and brutal topic, teachers and librarians may still want to recommend this book to mature readers. -- Regan Schwartz

McCormick, Patricia. Sold. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What’s Good in Queens today

Very excited about this weekend’s NY Art Book Fair which kicked off last night. I’ll have the honor of sitting on a panel this afternoon with Lauren Adelman of Artistic Noise who doubles as the amazing outreach arts educator we get to partner with and moderated by the exceptional Jennifer Tobias, PhD, Reader Services Librarian at the Museum of Modern Art. There’s a special surprise guest on her way down from upstate as I write this and we’ll all be talking about Artists’ Books in the Juvenile Justice System. Please stop by and say hello!--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Runaways by Marvel Comics

What would you do if you saw your parents murder someone? Teens may think of their parents as evil, but what if they really were? Runaways is a Marvel series in which the parents of a group of teens are underground criminals who, behind the scenes, have control of the city. The young adults find out about their parents’ secret lives when they make the mistake of spying on them. It is there that they become witnesses to their parents committing a crime and the story begins to unfold. The teens are forced to make the tough choice of either joining their parents as criminals or to runaway from them -- of course, they choose to run away. As runaways each of the teens discovers that their respective parent had intended for them to continue the family business and must deal with that information in his/her own way. The art style is very Marvel-like as in there is no blood, the colors are bright and super powers can be expected. The story is intricate enough to keep you wanting more but not too complex for younger readers. -- Claudio Leon

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New York City Black Book Masters edited by Alain “KET” Mariduena

“That old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ rang in my head.” So says YES 2, one of a handful of writers whose quotes appear between the pages of this book which collects paper-based sketches and illustrations from KET and other New York City writers who KET deems “masters.” In 125 pages of glorious color, this book offers insight into a side of graffiti rarely seen by outsiders: the black book. For the uninitiated, this term refers to a writer’s sketchbook which, traditionally, had a black cover. In this humble reader’s opinion, the most stunning example of what this medium can lead to is shown on page 121 in a sweeping undersea piece featuring an octopus and subway train tentacles. This book proffers the developing writer creative ideas for lettering and layout, and the educator the opportunity to illustrate how alternate mediums offer alternate opportunities to realize one’s vision. It may also be useful to teachers wishing to introduce the concept of a writer’s notebook to the graffiti crowd. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Mariduena, Alain “KET”. New York City Black Book Masters. Germany : From Here to Fame Publishing, 2009.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

When Teddy’s younger sister is killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting, his entire family nearly falls apart. Everyone except Teddy, that is. He vows to keep it together for his fallen sister and to get revenge, even though he’s not a gang member. His first plan isn’t smooth enough -- he gets arrested for attempted murder and finds himself inside a juvenile detention facility. Luckily, a new mentoring program gets him out on house arrest, provided he report often to the program and take Micah, a tough acting middle-schooler, under his tutelage. As Teddy continues to refine his plans for revenge, Micah inadvertently teaches him that some things are more important.

Homeboyz is the third and final installment of Sitomer’s Hoopster trilogy, and it’s by far the most popular with our students. It has a great cover (publishers, if you’re out there and reading, this is what a good cover looks like!), and a story that’s both realistic and poignant. Students recommend this book to each other all the time. -- Anja Kennedy

Sitomer, Alan Lawrence. Homeboyz. New York: Hyperion Books for Children (Jump at the Sun), 2007.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Guest Post: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Few writers would dare combine an uplifting coming-of-age story with sci-fi and horror themes, but Ray Bradbury does, and he does it very well, in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Students find the 14-year-old main characters, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, engaging and they are fascinated by the detailed descriptions of the villains—particularly the illustrated man whose tattoos change to foretell the future. This is a short novel suitable for middle school reading abilities. Teachers will find many curricular connections. Teachers working with the Holocaust or Slavery as subjects may be able to use Something Wicked This Way Comes as a way to help students understand how hope and love can survive in situations that seem hopeless and loveless. --Fred Lauf

Fred Lauf teaches ELA to high schoolers at Passages Academy’s Summit site in the Bronx. He’s been teaching at schools like Passages for 18 years and he still enjoys coming to work every day.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born by Stephen King, Adapted by Peter David and Robin Furth, Illustrated by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove

This comic book series is dark, gritty, and definitely written for a mature audience, which is fitting for an original work by Stephen King. Like the novels, the comic series follows the story of Roland, our hero, who is the last of his kind, a Gunslinger on a journey across the land of a fictional world that is dying. His quest is to find the cause, which is trapped in a Dark Tower. The first book introduces the origins of Roland and how he became a Gunslinger at a very young age. The Gunslinger Reborn explores themes such as death, adultery and magic. And although not everything is depicted in detail, there is a substantial amount of gore which goes hand in hand with revealing a world on the brink of death. The artists did a phenomenal job at portraying the decay and looming darkness that is overtaking the world. The reader, in every frame, will get the feeling that there is something lurking in every corner and the feeling that this world which Roland is trying to save does indeed needs saving. This reader appreciated that the comic series follows a more chronological order of events than the original books, where the origin of Roland isn’t even addressed until book four. The comics also give more background and depth to the story than the books, something which can often be lost in translation. --Claudio Leon

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Programming Spotlight: Bookmobile Visits Boys Town

A bus pulled up outside our door and hungry readers were greeted and welcomed into a brightly lit library collection inside. A dream come true for the boys at Boys Town who had the chance to receive Brooklyn Public library cards on the spot and check out as many books as they wanted this morning. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Programming Spotlight: Our first MoMA field trip of the school year!

Our community partnership with the Museum of Modern Art is off to another exciting year of programming. Yesterday, some very appreciative students (and staff!) from Passages Academy--Summit went on a VIP tour through the galleries of MoMA on their only day of the week closed to the public, led by the ever-inspiring museum educator Lauren Adelman. We stood in front of van Gogh's Starry Night and other famous works of art; all of us feeling very special when we had the art all to ourselves. After the tour, Ms. Adelman facilitated an art-making workshop where students created sculptural pieces inspired by art that we saw in the Talk to Me exhibition. One student perfectly summed it all up at the end, singing "Today was a wavy day." --Anja Kennedy

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sentences: The Life of M.F.Grimm by Percy Carey

It’s the ‘80s and life for many in New York City is very violent and all too short. There are a few ways to make it on the mean streets and the new world of hip hop represents the best and the worst of them: talent, drive, perseverance, violence, and drugs. With incredible candor, Carey’s autobiographical graphic novel details in rich illustration and lyric prose the troubled rise, the epic fall, and the gradual redemption of one of hip hop’s underground stars: his alter-ego, M.F.Grimm. Featuring cameos by Suge Knight, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Chuck D., this compelling memoir is an action-packed walk through Hip Hop’s birth and rise and one man’s story of a life-long struggle to tame a wild temper, learn from bad decisions, and make a mother proud.

Sentences is not a pretty tale, though it is a stunning book, dynamically illustrated in black and white. It is the story of a life full of violence and criminal activity and the consequences of these choices are clearly drawn out. This is a book sure to connect with many urban youth looking for a way up and out and a great way to introduce students to biographies. --Regan Schwartz

A note for educators: at times the artistic renderings of previously introduced characters is inconsistent , making it difficult to follow supporting characters whose faces shift from page to page. Teachers and librarians may wish to seize this opportunity to teach students about the challenges inherent in visual literacy.

Carey, Percy. Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm. New York: Vertigo, 2007.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Up Close: Bill Gates a twentieth-century life by Marc Aronson

Want to be like Bill Gates? Established non-fiction writer Marc Aronson understands that young readers can’t help but wonder how one goes about becoming one of the richest people in the world. He also understands, he says, that much of what is truly fascinating about Bill Gates is how he has shaped the world we live in now. With these twin aims he organizes Gates’ biography into eleven chapters, the bulk of which address what Aronson casts as the eight principles of getting rich fast. Following Gates from his childhood in a wealthy, competitive family and in his early years at a public school, Aronson explains how the teenage Gates used everything he could draw on to become extremely wealthy in a shockingly short period of time. Aronson does a good job of helping the reader understand Gates’ critics and wonders about Microsoft’s cofounder turning into a major philanthropist. A satisfying biography of a singular contemporary icon dually useful to the curious reader as well as a student looking for report material. Notes, an index, and a bibliography help the non-fiction writer consider the writer’s perspective and process. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Aronson, Marc. Up Close: Bill Gates : a twentieth-century life. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bronxwood by Coe Booth

The long-awaited sequel to Coe Booth’s Tyrell is finally here and it does not disappoint. With his little brother in foster care and his mom unable or unwilling to get the family back together, Tyrell has been living with his drug-dealing friends, doing his best to stay out of the game and take care of his family. Now that his dad is out of jail and up to the same business that got him locked up in the first place, Tyrell knows that everyone expects him to move back home and step down as man of the family. But Tyrell can see what’s coming as everyone falls back into their old patterns of behavior. He has a lot of important decisions to make in the last few weeks of August - decisions about friendship, love, and family that will have serious consequences.

With sharp prose and excellent observation, Booth paints a gritty, gripping portrait of survival. Readers are drawn to Tyrell’s voice and his lived experience because it is so stunningly rendered. Students who enjoy the work of Walter Dean Myers, Allison Van Diepen, Ni-Ni Simone, and Sharon Draper will enjoy this fast-paced glimpse back into Tyrell’s life in Bronxwood. -- Regan Schwartz

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn

This graphic novel is drawn with vivid colors and beautiful detail. From the moment you open the novel until the very end, the intricate specificity behind every character and scene found inside will compel you turn the page. The story, almost deceptively simple, briefly skims the surface of deeper themes, like the fight for oil in the east, the bombing of Baghdad, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. For better or worse, the story touches on these issues so briefly that those without prior knowledge will not feel excluded from the main plot. The story follows a pride of four lions who manage to escape the Baghdad Zoo during the invasion of Iraq. As the reader trails their journey across the city, they encounter other animals, some wild and others who have also escaped the zoo. The pride’s internal struggle forces them to break up and eventually brings them back together through the progress of their journey. Although it may sound like a long story, it is rather short and very satisfying. Mostly though, this is a visual feast. --Claudio Leon

Please note there is suggestive sexual content in two sections of this graphic novel.

Vaughn, Brian K. Pride of Baghdad. New York: Vertigo Comics, 2006.

Monday, September 12, 2011

LeBron James: Basketball Legend

This extremely slim volume will grab the attention of basketball-loving browsers. Six short sections familiarize readers with LeBron James, the popular basketball star. Most pages have two sentences each and all text appears opposite a large color photo. The writing is simple and never moves in the direction of depth or interesting details, but we do learn the basics of James’ birth, childhood, and early NBA career. The sections are followed by a brief timeline, glossary, and index which makes this title a solid non-fiction pick for emergent readers with an interest in basketball. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Worthy, Shanya. LeBron James: Basketball Legend. New York: Gareth Stevens, 2010.

Two the Hard Way by Travis Hunter

When Romeo’s older brother Kwame gets released from prison, Romeo has to adjust to having him around again -- and it isn’t easy. Especially not with all the other drama in his life: his girlfriend is upset about another girl’s accusations, their mother is back on the scene after a long crack-addicted absence, and the home they share with their grandmother is burglarized. And while Kwame might be feeling freedom for the first time in a while, life isn’t easy for him either as he transitions back into the old neighborhood. Told in alternating chapters from the brothers’ points of view, this is a young adult departure for Travis Hunter, author of a long list of urban books for adults. It’s a good choice for fans of Ni-Ni Simone -- written in a similar style with the appeal of modern slang and dialogue. This is a fast-paced urban story sure to satisfy readers looking for drama; a few lessons about being a man are weaved in as well. --Anja Kennedy

Hunter, Travis. Two the Hard Way. New York: Dafina Books, 2009.