Friday, April 29, 2011

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, adapted by Jacqueline Morley (Barron's Graphic Classics series)

What I like most about comics is that I don’t have to use my imagination in the way that I would reading a "regular" book. The illustrations allow me to simply enjoy the story and watch what is happening. It is a trend right now to adapt classic literature into graphic novels, and I think the graphic versions have reinvigorated the original stories. One of my favorite parts in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is when the characters come across a giant octopus almost twice the size of the submarine, which is large enough to house a crew of a few hundred sailors. Being able to actually see the size comparison drives home the massiveness of the beast, which I think could often get lost in the original text. Strangely, one or two chapters from the original story seem to be missing from this graphic novel, but students discovering the story for the first time won’t notice. They will, however, enjoy the color illustrations and will likely appreciate the glimpse into the past as Captain Namor and his Nautilus journey across the underwater world in the 19th century. --Claudio Leon

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How to Make Books by Esther K. Smith

Looking for new and innovative ways to spice up traditional curriculum? Ester K. Smith's How to Make Books is a hands-on guide to inventive book creation. Complete with diagrams, instructions and historical background, How to Make Books explores a wide variety of book making, including instant books, zines, accordion books, pamphlets, chapbooks, mutant books and stitched books. Students who express interest in writing or illustration often take quickly to the title, and most readers lean in closely when they realize that their ideas can be created, collected and bound by hand! So how does this apply to the classroom? Consider How to Make Books a reference point for imaginative and tactile classroom projects. Whether it be a unit on folktales, exploration of a particular historical period or event, a visual dissection of a plant, or the technical application of geometry, all can be enhanced by incorporating the kinesthetic and personalized activity of book making. --Lisa Buckton

Smith, Esther K. How to Make Books. New York: Potter Craft, 2007.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

After Kristina returns to her mom’s from reuniting with her wayward father, she is left disheveled, uncertain, scattered and addicted. Now she must re-enter her old life battling a new monster - a deep-seated yearning for crystal meth. As if the plot line isn't enough to lure you in, Hopkins breaches the traditional construct of fiction with a novel composed entirely of narrative, free verse and concrete poems. Poetic language brings the poignant and dangerous struggle of a teenage girl's unexpected and swift addiction to crystal meth to life. A perfect fit for National Poetry Month, Crank is likely to entice the average poetry reader and those resistant to the genre alike. The novel moves at a swift and frenzied pace, expertly emulating the tumultuous effects of drug use. Students are drawn to the raw, and often startling, honesty of the writing, as well as to Kristina's untidy and realistic tale. Crank does not attempt to sweep issues under the carpet, rather, it leaves the room messy and forthright, calling the reader to come in and see. -- Lisa Buckton

Passages Academy will welcome author Ellen Hopkins via Skype™ for a discussion of her work and Q & A session with students later this month. Please stay tuned to our blog for further details!

Hopkins, Ellen. Crank. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2004.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto

"I will never give up... I promised to succeed no matter the odds against me. And you know why? Because that is my way of living." So says Naruto in book #1 of this ongoing manga series. Learning to overcome your boundaries and finding a way to achieve your goals is what Naruto is all about. This Japanimation series mainly focuses on the way a teenager decides to live his life and the challenges he must face and overcome in order to maintain. As the story, develops, readers learn that any character in Naruto, including Naruto himself, can meet his or her end. Naruto is both entertaining and engaging for any reader who can decode. The illustrated frames will be welcomed by striving readers who will be able to follow along as the story takes them on the rollercoaster ride of broken friendships, betrayals, sacrifices and the search within oneself. Each of the Naruto graphic novels is short and fast-paced which is sure to have students coming back for more. -- Claudio Leon

Farewell Anne, Welcome Lisa & Claudio!

Please join us in waving a virtual and temporary goodbye to co-editor and teammate Anne Lotito Schuh as she takes a leave of absence. She will be out for the remainder of the school year, but she continues to be an essential part of our team. As Anne steps away, we also have exciting news about two additions to our team. Claudio Leon, served as Passages Academy’s Library Assistant from Spring 2007 until Fall 2009 before leaving to pursue his education in computer information technology. Please join us in welcoming him back as our Educational Technology Specialist and library assistant! Lisa Buckton is filling in for Anne at our Crossroads site and we are so happy to have her join us. Readers can look forward to weekly posts from both Claudio and Lisa.

Anja & Jessica

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love by Ashanti

In Ashanti’s first sentence, she lets readers know that she writes poetry and reflections in a journal, and has for a very long time. In her words, “I’d come up with an idea at a club or in the car waiting for a friend and as soon as I’d get home I’d write it in my book as poetry.” The positive messages about writing and reflection abound in the introduction, making it clear that this is more than just another collection of poetry. Each poem included in the book is preceded by a personal story that lets the reader know exactly what Ashanti was going through at the time of writing. Poems are often followed with a written reflection and an update on where the poem may have gone -- sometimes they became lyrics in her hit songs. While the poems are all quite literal, and the stories almost exclusively about love and relationships, students can relate to the poems and their context. This is a great tool for connecting aspiring writers with a true success story. Ashanti may not be the hottest singer on the radio right now, but not so long ago she was, and students definitely know her name. It’s refreshing to read that she writes her own material, and it all started in journal entries at the young age of thirteen. This is another great choice for students looking for love poetry, with a little inspirational writing on the side.

Ashanti. Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love. New York: Hyperion, 2002.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The 100 Best African American Poems Edited by Nikki Giovanni

“Poems are like clouds on a June morning or two scoops of chocolate ice cream on a sugar cone in August . . . something everyone can enjoy. . . . Something you don’t think too much about until it is in Season. Then you deliciously anticipate the perfection.” So begins Giovanni’s introduction to this welcome new anthology of poetry, her words capturing how many of us feel at the dawn of each April. Readers will glow with recognition when they come across classics by Brooks, Dunbar, Evans, Clifton and Shakur, and experience fresh inspiration in character, perspective and voice while reading contributions from less-widely known poets like Jim Seibles and Truth Thomas. The attractively designed hardcover volume includes a CD with readings of 36 of the poems which can draw students in and support conversations on how to read a poem and understand a poem for the uninitiated and the beginner.

Giovanni, Nikki, Ed. The Best 100 African American Poems. Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2010.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Programming Spotlight: Janet Tashjian & Jesse Eisenberg

“Writing is re-writing,” author Janet Tashjian said repeatedly during her Skype visit to Boys Town on March 30, 2011, as her face and voice leaped from the 27-inch iMac screen. Speaking separately with both the boys’ and girls’ high school English classes, which had just finished reading her novels, The Gospel According to Larry and Vote for Larry, Janet Tashjian’s energy was as infectious as her writing.

Mrs. Tashjian made reference to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Jack Gantos’ Hole in My Life and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg as influential texts that helped her segue into a full-time writer. Excited by Passages students’ many informed questions and their writing, which she had read prior to the visit, Mrs. Tashjian held up a marble notebook similar to the type our students use to demonstrate how she still writes in longhand.

The students and Mrs. Tashjian were equally excited to welcome Jesse Eisenberg, recent Academy Award nominee and long time Passages friend, to the author visit. Mr. Eisenberg performed and recorded the audio version of the “Larry” books, and his voice has been a consistent part of the classroom lessons, modeling both the op-ed articles and creative realistic fiction found in Mrs. Tashjian’s work. -- L. A. Gabay

L.A. Gabay teaches English and is available for Skype visits.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teens Edited by Betsy Franco

One of the most frequent requests I’ve received over the years (well, probably second to demands for urban/street/realistic fiction) is for love poems, and so I was thrilled when this anthology came out in paperback last year. Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teens, Betsy Franco’s compilation, finally gives students what they want. Franco collected these poems from around the world as teens sent her their submissions via email. Diversity is ample, but the poetry stays true to the title with a focus on love, albeit love in its many forms. Whet students’ appetite with short poems like “Love is Like”: “the sweetness of honey/ falling from a bee hive./ You have to be careful/ not to get stung.” A great follow up to the teen who has just finished Tupac’s The Rose that Grew From Concrete or the reader who is busy composing notes to loved ones and searching for a poem to add to an epistle. Sophisticated readers may enjoy pairing it with Plato’s Symposium or Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Franco, Betsy, Ed. Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teens. Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2010.