Monday, February 28, 2011

Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures, by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol

As many as one million people walk through the Anne Frank House, the museum that was once the Secret Annex that hid Anne Frank and her family, each year. In lieu of a field trip to this historic site, this book offers readers a visual visit to the museum. With an abundance of full color photographs of the famous diary as well as personal family photos of the Frank family and the Secret Annex, a summary of Anne’s diary contextualized in the contemporary political climate is punctuated by excerpts from the diary that add a personal voice to the retelling. Passages’ students have expressed a great deal of curiosity about the Holocaust, and on more than one occasion about Anne Frank specifically. Maybe it is the shockingly horrific nature of genocide, or a shared sense of persecution and imprisonment. Whatever it may be, this book has answered and raised many questions for students exploring it during their time in the library.

Metselaar, Menno and Ruud van der Rol. Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2004.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

101 Freaky Animals by Melvin and Gilda Berger

If you’ve never heard of babirusas, pangolins, okapis, narwhals, or cassowaries, you’ll want to look at this book. If you’ve never seen a flannel moth caterpillar, or a giant clam, or a hooded seal, or a red-lipped batfish, you’ll want to look at this book. Each page in this full-color paperback features a headline which includes the name of an animal and an interesting tidbit like “Sea Cucumbers Shoot Out Their Insides” (#79), or “Temminck’s Tragopans Inflate their Horns” (#95), accompanied by approximately five sentences in a fairly large font. The information, organized alphabetically by the animals’ names, varies and sometimes elaborates on the headline and sometimes gives additional interesting facts. The brevity of these paragraphs makes this book a great starting point for inquiry projects or discussions about questions and questioning strategies. This is a great pick for reluctant readers who are scoring around a fourth grade reading level on the STAR exam but aren’t interested in fiction.

Berger, Melvin & Glinda. 101 Freaky Animals. New York: Scholastic, 2010.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Guest Post: The Real Cost of Prison Comix, edited by Lois Ahrens with Comix by Kevin Pyle, Sabrina Jones and Susan Willmarth

Those who work at Passages Academy have shown themselves to be at the intersection between education and incarceration. In Teach Like A Champion, Doug Lemov suggests that the best way to teach students is to get to know them as individuals. One way to achieve this at Passages is to truly understand our students’ circumstances as court-involved learners.

The Real Cost of Prison Comix provides detailed information about the prison industrial complex, navigating this complex and how it relates to both teachers and students at our Passages school sites. The Real Cost of Prison Comix’ anecdotal and statistical information presented in graphic novel form also proved useful in the classroom as it engaged both emerging readers and those with deeper levels of comprehension. The book’s illustrations simplified sophisticated concepts, and thus made them more accessible.

Exploring the malevolence of the “school to prison pipeline” and its effects on families’ and communities’ health and fiscal well being, the book is one of the more transformational texts used in Passages Academy classrooms. The students are inspired to see their reality validated in print as they begin to consider how they can make changes to their lives and communities.

The Real Cost of Prison Comix is a rare piece of literature that can simultaneously both inform our craft and excite our students. - L.A. Gabay

Ahrens, Lois, Ed. The Real Cost of Prison Comix. Oakland, Ca: PM Press, 2008.

L.A. Gabay is a doctoral candidate in the Urban Education Program at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. His published works can be found in “Teaching City Kids: Understanding and Appreciating Them” (2006), “The Praeger Handbook of Education and Psychology” (2007), “KICKS Magazine” (2009) and Sages’ “Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies” (2010).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Crush: Love Poems by Kwame Alexander

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, many students have been looking for love poems to read and to share with their sweethearts. Alexander’s collection of love poems is a quick read with a little something for everyone. A few poems are about longing, a few are about heartbreak, and some are about mutual love. One of my favorites is “Awkward Poems,” a poem about having a crush on a friend: “Sometimes I wish we weren’t friends / then I could gaze into your bold eyes / and find answers to questions I’m afraid to ask.” A nice feature at the end of the book is the inclusion of poems by five poets Alexander admires, confirming that poetry is meant to be shared. Looking for more love poetry to recommend to students? See our earlier review of Love Poems by Pablo Neruda or ask us to show you more in the poetry section of our libraries.

Alexander, Kwame. Crush: Love Poems. Alexandria, VA: Word of Mouth Books, 2007.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Flocabulary: The Hip Hop Approach to SAT-Level Vocabulary Building by Blake Harrison and Alexander Rappaport

An SAT prep book might sound like a hard sell to students seeking independent reading material, but Harrison and Rappaport’s efforts will not be wasted on any teen interested in improving his or her vocabulary. While the beginning of the book explains the technique, readers can dive right into the songs in chapter 2 and start improving their lexical stylings immediately. Each song is prefaced by a wordbank which lists all notable vocabulary words contained in the song. The list is followed by the song lyrics which run down the left side of the page while the right side offers extremely brief definitions line-by-line along with identifying the part of speech the term most commonly appears as. Oxford English Dictionary it’s not, but Flocabulary offers students more than etymologies. There’s synonym matching, sentence completion, and reading comprehension exercises following each original lyric. Will your students undertake these with no assignment or grade hanging over their head? Many will-- and even without the musical CD that accompanies the books-- because who doesn’t want to rhyme fiercely and out-metaphor Lil’ Wayne on the hall? For readers with CD player access, the CD can be the treasure because the rhythm, rhyme and music allow the listener to memorize the new vocabulary words almost effortlessly, the way one memorizes the lyrics to one’s favorite song.

Chapter 3 offers brief analyses of the songs-- best suited for ELA teachers and their ilk, Chapter 4 lists hip-hop resources. Chapter 5 provides answer keys to the 11 songs and Chapter 6 is a quick reference dictionary of the approximately 500 SAT words contained in the lyrics. The book’s website offers even more for the educator.

Harrison, Blake, and Alexander Rappaport. Flocabulary: The Hip-Hop Approach to SAT-Level Vocabulary Building. Kennebunkport: Cider Mill Press, 2006.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guest Blog Post: We Were Here by Matt de la Pena

I know Miguel Castaῆeda. He went to my high school. I know Rondell Law. He’s been my student. Mong…well, he tends to be inconspicuous, but you’ve seen him around. Actually, you’ve known all of them at some point in your life. We never knew their stories, cause they never really talked about them, but we know them now. They’re the subject of Matt de la Peῆa’s book, We Were Here. In the form of a journal, Miguel narrates the layered stories these three young men share. The three first meet at a group home in central California where they will complete their sentences…at least in theory. Not a month into his time, Miguel takes Mong up on his offer to escape, and Rondell tags along. The three head for Mexico, largely on foot, and dramatics ensue. While still at the group home, The Lighthouse, Miguel had decided to take up reading, and, in preparation for his journey, swipes a handful of novels from the home library, as well as his, Rondell’s, and Mong’s official files. As the story unfolds, stories unfold for Miguel, too . He takes us through The Color Purple, Of Mice and Men, and The Catcher in the Rye. He identifies with various aspects of character or plot, engaging the reader in these auxiliary texts, we well. We also learn Mong's and Rondell's stories, both familial and judicial, and fall in love with each one. Eventually, as the reader earns his trust, Miguel tells us his story, which he tip-toes around for most of the book. Though they don’t end up in Mexico, all three boys meet with success, as does de la Pena in his novel. He kept me reading for some 300 pages, and even encouraged me to give The Catcher in the Rye another shot. --Julia Weber

Guest blogger Julia Weber is an English teacher at Passages Academy's Boys Town site.

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous + Obscure, edited by Smith Magazine

The six-word memoir phenomenon is rumored to have begun when Ernest Hemingway was asked to write a story in only six words. He wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Outstanding six-word memoirs are those that force the reader to imagine the depth of the tale that inspired them. One example submitted to Smith Magazine’s website was, “Cursed with cancer. Blessed with friends,” which you may imagine evokes the image of an elderly person reflecting at the end of a long life, but was in fact written by a nine-year-old girl. Or, “I still make coffee for two,” which conjures an image of someone mourning the loss of a beloved spouse, but was actually written by a man in his twenties after a breakup. In this volume, Smith Magazine has collected 600 six-word memoirs solely by authors between the ages of 13 and 19. Students find some memoirs, like “Always listening, but never really heard,” easy to identify with. While others, like “My mom had my boyfriend deported,” ignite as many possible story lines as there are students in the room. Share these with your students, and more from Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak by Writers Famous & Obscure and Not Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, and then ask them to pen their own six-word memoirs. Justin, age 15, a student at Crossroads, wrote, “Shoulda, woulda, but can not handle,” and, “Right now, no freedom, but faith.” What six words would you choose?

Smith Magazine, Ed. I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous + Obscure. New York: HarperTeen, 2009.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pitch Black: Dont be Skerd by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton

“I was born to people who didn’t want me. So they gave me away. But I guess the people they gave me to didn’t want me either. No one wanted me. That’s how I ended up on the streets alone and uneducated.” This is how Anthony Horton begins to tell Youme Landowne the story of how he made a home for himself in NYC’s subway tunnels. As storyteller, Anthony invites Youme down into his home in this black and white graphic novel. Letting the artwork tell much of the tale, the sparse text focuses on the lessons Anthony learned and the family he found underground. Students are drawn to this book because it is a true story, verifying the oft-rumored reality of NYC’s homeless living underground. A Brooklyn Eagle interview with Landowne works as a great supplemental text that addresses how these two artists collaborated. Highly recommended for readers of all levels looking for a quick and engaging read.

Landowne, Youme and Anthony Horton. Pitch Black: Don’t Be Skerd. El Paso, Texas: Cinco Punto Press, 2008.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

If I Was Your Girl by Ni-Ni Simone

Toi and Shanice have one thing in common: Quamir is their babies’ father. He treats them both like dirt, but even though Toi can see that he’s not a great guy, really not even an okay guy, she can’t help but want the relationship to work. That is, until she meets Harlem. For the first time in her young life, she’s swept off her feet by a guy who treats her like a lady, including long conversations and Chinese food deliveries to her door. But how will Harlem react when he finds out she has a baby? While the story is often predictable, and the dialogue can be trite, students looking for an urban, “real-life,” book will be happy to find this on the shelf. Written for teens and with plenty of slang and drama, it is Toi’s character development that sets this story apart from others in the genre. Teens who can relate to Toi’s challenges appreciate the courage she demonstrates at the close of the story.

Simone, Ni-Ni. If I Was Your Girl. New York: Dafina Books, 2008.