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.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Spotlight Interview: Claudio Leon

Welcome back! September 6th kicks off a new school year for us at Passages and we have two library team members we'd like you to meet if you don't know them already. First up is Claudio Leon, who first joined our team in early 2008.

JFS: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your background and what you've been up to?

CL: I was born in Dominican Republic, migrated to the United States when I was 10 and found my love for everything digital at around the same time. Later on, in high school, I discovered my passion for reading and writing. I was in the service for 4 years, and had been employed by the Department of Records as an Assistant Systems Administrator. These days you can find me working on a few small independent projects as well as providing technology services for those who need it. Currently, I am finishing my undergrad in Computer Information Systems Technology, yes it is a mouthful.

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

CL: Favorite thing to read will have to be anything science fiction, especially graphic novels, just love them. I have two favorite reading places, the subway and my bedroom before going to bed.

JFS: What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?

CL: Favorite book... tough choice but it would have to be The Three Musketeers, "One for all and all for one!"

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

I normally like to catch up on technology trends in my spare time, but that involves reading, so video games would be my second favorite hobby.