Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Robot Dreams by Sarah Varon

Wordless friendship is probably be the best way to describe this fantastic graphic novel about a dog and his robot friend.  Through the use of imagery alone, Sarah Varon does a great job demonstrating the friendship between the dog and his mail-ordered robot.  Together both characters share many adventures and have a great time, until they go to the beach.  Dog encourages Robot to jump in the water with him.  Robot reluctantly agrees and eventually joins Dog in the water.  After their swim they both decide to lay down on the sand, but when it’s time to leave, Robot is unable to move. Dog is forced to leave Robot at the beach where he comes to visit Robot every day.  When winter comes and the beach closes, Dog can no longer visit Robot. Will Robot still be there when the beach opens next summer?  Dog doesn’t know it, but Robot’s adventures are just about to begin.

Robot Dreams is suitable for any reading level since the only text found in this graphic novel is onomatopoeia; the rest of the novel is textless.  Students will enjoy looking at each panel and flying through the pages as though they were watching a silent film.--Claudio Leon

Varon, Sara. Robot Dreams. New York & London: First Second, 2007. Print

Monday, December 17, 2012

Encyclopedia of Sharks by Steve Parker

Sharks are older than dinosaurs and just as fascinating.  These mysterious predators come in all shapes and sizes, from the 6-8 inch dwarf lantern shark, to the 40-foot whale shark, and the Encyclopedia of Sharks has them all.  Chock-full of glossy, full-color photographs, charts, and maps, it’s clear that the immediate appeal of this book is visual.  However, the casual browser is soon roped in by the interesting snippets of information presented in sidebars and captions.  Each page of the book is a separate section, clearly organized with titles and subtitles, making it easier for fluent readers to skim for information.  These sections are grouped into chapters, such as “Shark Design” and “Hunters and Killers.”  The Encyclopedia of Sharks includes an extensive index and glossary, as well as a list of places to see sharks and shark-related resources. --Regan Schwartz

Parker, Steve. Encyclopedia of Sharks. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2008. Print.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Can’t Get There from Here by Todd Strasser

The New York City streets that Maybe and her tribe of homeless teens have called home for months are growing colder and more desolate with each passing day.  As the winter wears on and intensifies, the group struggles to survive, spending their days and nights in ever-more-desperate searches for shelter and food.  For Maybe, life on the streets is a better option than going home, but trust is hard to come by.  She learned a long time ago that adults lie and cheat and generally want something in return for any small kindness.  As the temperature drops and her friends begin to disappear, can Maybe learn to trust in time to save herself?

Written in Maybe’s humble voice, the narrative is fairly straightforward and easy to follow.  However, it is interspersed with short biographical sketches that may prove a bit confusing at first.  While the situations and events portrayed are uncomfortable and ugly, the language is not, making this book suitable for sensitive middle grade readers and classroom use. --Regan Schwartz

Strasser, Todd. Can’t Get There From Here. New York: Simon Pulse, 2004. Print.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ray Charles: Find Another Way! by Susan Sloate

Don’t be fooled by this slim biography. Yes, it’s easy on the eyes with large font, plenty of white space and large color photographs, but it’s also filled with interesting information about the late rhythm and blues great, Ray Charles. In a mere thirty-two pages, I learned several memorable things about the man that I had never heard before. For instance, he changed his name from Ray Robinson, so as not to be confused with the boxer, he played chess against people with sight, and he even drove a car sometimes! These personal facts are intertwined with the historical context of his career, and Sloate includes a few anecdotes about Ray’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement.

The back of the book has an abbreviated timeline, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index. If you want to learn more about Ray Charles, Sloate includes a few books to consider reading as well as a few websites. This book is a great choice for struggling and reluctant readers, especially as the the Common Core State Standards ask all classes to incorporate more nonfiction texts.  --Anja Kennedy

Sloate, Susan. Ray Charles: Find Another Way! New York: Bearport Publishing, 2007. Print.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Amazing Baby by Desmond Morris

From their button noses to their teeny toes, babies are designed to enthrall us, and Amazing Baby is your one-stop guide to them.  This book, full of gorgeous full-color photographs, tackles every aspect of human infant development, from gestation to toddler.  With sections on “staying healthy,” “how babies learn,” and “emotional life,” Amazing Baby covers a wide range of topics thoroughly and succinctly.  Each topic is amply illustrated with photographs and full-color overlays, and broad categories are broken down into a series of 1-2 page subtopics, each further broken down into 1-2 paragraph sections, allowing the reader to skim for pertinent and interesting information.  This book proves ever-popular, especially with our female students.  When it comes time to browse for books, you can be sure there will be a group of two or three poring over the images and information in this one.

Because it covers such a broad range, the readability of the text varies quite a bit from topic to topic.  Some of the sections dealing with physiology are quite dense, while others dealing with play or common routines are very readable.  The text is well organized, with a table of contents and a comprehensive index.  However, the real appeal of this book is in the stunning images. --Regan Schwartz

It should be noted that there are two images of a nursing infant and one image of a topless, pregnant torso, which may make this volume unsuitable for some readers or environments.

Morris, Desmond.  Amazing Baby. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2008. Print.

Friday, November 30, 2012

You're Invited: Biblioball 2012

This short video invitation says it all.  But for those of you who like to have things spelled out:  December 8th, 2012, 8pm, The Bell House in Brooklyn.  Click here for tickets.

Hope to see you dressed up, getting down, and getting literary!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Programming Spotlight: Arts & Dreams


Bronx Hope Social Workers and Reading Specialist show off their affirmations. 

Last week, Bronx Hope students had the opportunity to participate in one of two Arts & Dreams-led empowering art workshops. Students and staff learned about the power of positive affirmations and then made some of their own! Many thanks to Laura, Patricia and Zyambo. --Anja Kennedy

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Saint Iggy by K.L.Going

It is a week before Christmas and third-year freshman, Iggy Corso, has been suspended again (this time it’s looking permanent), but that is hardly the worst of his concerns.  His mom has been missing for weeks, presumably on a meth-fueled bender, and his father is too drunk or stoned to care.  With his principal’s admonition to do “something that contributes to the world” ringing in his ears, Iggy makes a plan.  It has five steps:
1. make a plan
2. get out of the Projects
3. do something with [his] life
4. change everyone’s mind about [him]
5. get back into school
For assistance and advice he turns to his friend and mentor, Mo, a wealthy college dropout with an escalating drug habit that is about to get them both into a lot of very serious trouble.  Can Iggy’s relentless optimism and drive get both their lives back on track?  How many ways can a sixteen year old, with little education and no skills, contribute to the world?

Written in the first person, from Iggy’s perspective, Saint Iggy is a gritty, urban drama with an amusingly wry voice.  Despite its Lexile level of 1190, Saint Iggy’s generous use of whitespace, and realistic teen voice, make it an accessible and engaging read for a fluent high school reader. --Regan Schwartz

Going, K.L. Saint Iggy. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2006. Print.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Programming Spotlight: International Games Celebration

Fun!  On November 14th and 15th students at Passages 4 largest sites participated in the American Library Association’s International Games Day.  Students recalled their favorite games from childhood and school, thought about the purposes of games, played games, and reflected on the value and roles of games in their lives.  Our libraries offered board games like chess,  Bananagrams and Scrabble, video games like Big Brain Academy, and word games like crossword puzzles, Scattergories and word searches. Social work team members contributed their engaging presence and socio-emotional expertise, and Literacy for Incarcerated Teens provided essential funding. Game on!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Papertoy Monsters: 50 Cool Papertoys You Can Make Yourself by Brian Castleforte

Like monsters?  Wish they weren’t quite so large and dangerous?  Have I got the book for you!  Paper Toy Monsters is a treasure trove of so-ugly-they’re-cute miniature monsters you build yourself.  Armed with a little time, some glue, and a lot of patience, you can craft an army of tiny, full-color monsters with names like Lil Vamp, Wolfman Joe, and Halloweeny.  Rated “easy” to “advanced,” there’s a monster for everyone.  Once you’ve worked your way through all of the artist-designed monsters, there are templates for you to design your own!

Not only is Paper Toy Monsters a craft book, it is a wonderful introduction to the features of nonfiction texts and technical writing.  With a table of contents, headings, subheadings, pictures with captions, and multi-step directions, there is plenty of information for students to explore. --Regan Schwartz

Castleforte, Brian. Papertoy Monsters: 50 Cool Papertoys You Can Make Yourself. New York: Workman Publishing, 2010. Print.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Programming Spotlight: Papertoy Monsters

To celebrate the start of our non-fiction unit, on November 8th Passages Academy Libraries simultaneously ran a program across three of its sites.  The Horizon, Bronx Hope and Crossroads libraries invited classes to participate in the crafting of paper toy monsters.  Students explored features of non-fiction text and technical writing by reading and following written instructions from the title Papertoy Monsters.  The book which comes filled with perforated pages of pre-designed monsters, instructed students to remove the pieces from the book and fold and glue them in order to create a three dimensional figure.

During the program students were brimming with excitement as they pulled pieces apart and glued them together.  Many verbally requested to make more monsters, stay an extra period or come back the next day.  After the program ended a student passed by the Horizon library smiling and saying “I have a lot of monsters.  I made seven!”.  A review of the book is coming soon! --Claudio Leon

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Take Me There by Carolee Dean

Dylan Dawson seems to take after his dad, the convicted cop-killer; a fact which has dogged him his entire life.  From the streets to juvie and back again, Dylan can’t seem to get his act together, not even long enough to learn to read.  Dylan was on probation, working at an auto shop, staying clean and falling in love with the girl of his dreams. Then life threw him a deadly curve ball and now he’s on the run from the law with his best friend and heading to Texas to get some answers from his father on death row.  But, Dylan and his father are both running out of time. Will Dylan find what he needs to get life back on track before it’s too late?

The pro-literacy message of Take Me There may, occasionally, come on too strong, but fans of Simone Elkele’s Perfect Chemistry series will find another good girl/troubled boy romance to get wrapped up in.  While the text has a Lexile of 760, the story is told through flashbacks, excerpts from Dylan’s father’s memoir, and straight narration, creating a more challenging reading experience. --Regan Schwartz

Dean, Carolee. Take Me There. New York: Simon Pulse, 2010. Print.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Save the Date: Biblioball

image by The Desk Set

Dear Readers,
Grab your calendar (in whatever form it may take these days) and set aside the evening of December 8th because you won’t want to miss the Desk Set’s annual Biblioball at the Bell House in Brooklyn!  All proceeds benefit Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, whose hard work and generosity make much of our work possible.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Spotlight: Family Literacy at Parent/Teacher Conferences

Family Literacy at Belmont
Table at Horizon invites parents to get resources and explore the content on our library iPads
Last night at our four largest sites, Belmont, Bronx Hope, Crossroads and Horizon, parents were greeted by site librarians with take-home gifts! We had a selection of paperback picture books and board books for young readers in both English and Spanish, applications for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, Reading Hot Spots maps by the National Book Foundation, and Family Literacy Pamphlets by New Visions for Public Schools. Some sites also had public librarians signing visitors up for library cards. Tomorrow afternoon is the second day for conferences, and we’re hoping to give more folks the resources they need to get books into the hands of young children. Many thanks to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for providing the funding for all of the children's books. --Anja Kennedy

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teenie by Christopher Grant

Smart, self-conscious, petite Martine Lashley is about to have a very tough year.  A freshman at the immense Brooklyn Tech High School, she is under a lot of pressure, both academically and socially.  Determined to earn a scholarship into a study abroad program in Spain, her grades start to slide as she deals with ostracizing cliques, her best friend’s dangerous lack of judgement, and the increasingly forceful attentions of the star of the basketball team.  Not knowing where to turn for help, she tries to handle everything on her own, but that’s a lot for a girl nicknamed Teenie to carry.

Christopher Grant’s first book is full of complex characters and realistic situations brought to life by its vibrant descriptions of familiar Brooklyn settings.  While it is written at a middle school reading level, the content is high school appropriate, as the book deals with sexual assault and violence. --Regan Schwartz

Grant, Christopher. Teenie. New York: Ember, 2010. Print

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beowulf (Graphic Novel Adaptation) by Gareth Hinds

As a mythical hero who accomplished unparalleled deeds, Beowulf should need no introduction.  This graphical adaptation tells the story of his battles against Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and his final battle against a monstrous fire breathing dragon. It is a beautifully drawn graphic novel which strays from traditional text bubbles.  Instead, text is delivered through stand alone boxes.  Some pages possess a few text boxes while others are left empty with nothing but imagery.  This adaptation could be used to introduce readers to graphic novels as there are never more than three text boxes per page.  Often the pages left with no text are the actual battles between Beowulf and his adversaries.  Having no text during these intense moments allow the reader to be sucked in and appreciate the artwork.  The final chapter changes from full color to black and white perhaps as a symbol of Beowulf’s last battle.  Whether in color or black and white, the novel never loses it’s ability to convey to the reader the gruesomeness, sweat, and effort of each of Beowulf’s battles.  If you’ve never read Beowulf this is the perfect introduction. --Claudio Leon

Hinds, Gareth. Beowulf. Candlewick Press, 2007. Print.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Extreme Pumpkins: Diabolical Do-It-Yourself Designs to Amuse Your Friends and Scare Your Neighbors by Tom Nardone

Tired of the boring old jack-o-lantern with a cheesy grin? Well, this is what you’ve been waiting for. In Extreme Pumpkins (and Extreme Pumpkins II), Nardone, shows off his creativity with the pumpkin -- making unusual, and sometimes gory, displays with just a few extra props and materials. In addition to looking at the photographs of his imaginative jack-o-lanterns, readers can learn about how to re-create his designs, as well as how to dispose of pumpkin carcasses and random trivia relating to the designs. For instance, in the “Roadkill-Eating Pumpkin” chapter, readers might find the sidebar on actual roadkill statistics quite sobering: an estimated 41 million squirrels are killed annually, and 26 million cats! In “Crime Scene Pumpkin,” we learn about the variety of uses for fake blood on Halloween. My personal favorite of all the creations, “Property-Defender Pumpkin” might take a little extra work, and a few extra pumpkins, but it’s sure to be memorable amidst all the regular pumpkins out there this month.

Students have often looked through these books to get inspiration for the pumpkins they carve in their facilities and for future pumpkin-carving at home. ELA teachers may find these books useful in the upcoming nonfiction unit; science teachers may appreciate the how-to steps. --Anja Kennedy

Nardone, Tom. Extreme Pumpkins: Diabolical Do-It-Yourself Designs to Amuse Your Friends and Scare Your Neighbors. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.

Monday, October 15, 2012

African-American Classics: Graphic Classics Vol 22 edited by Tom Pomplun

Often, graphic novel adaptations of classic literary works struggle to stand on their own, appearing as watered down versions of greats.  Thankfully, that is not at all the case in this top-notch collection.  Modern African-American comic writers and artists have adapted a slew of classic stories and poems by America’s earliest African-American authors, including W.E.B. Dubois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and turned them into engaging and dynamic comics in their own right.  From a haunting adaptation of Jean Toomer’s “Becky” by Mat Johnson and Randy DuBurke, to a spare and dreamy “On Being Crazy” illustrated by Kyle Barker, this solid anthology offers something for everyone.  Its use as a tool in analyzing how different texts address similar themes or in comparing versions of the same story told in diverse media, may be of specific interest to teachers of English Language Arts. --Regan Schwartz

Pomplun, Tom. African-American Classics: Graphic Classics Vol 22. Mount Horeb: Eureeka Productions, 2011. Print.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collected by Alvin Schwartz

Yes, they’re corny, and no, they’re not that scary. But, they are short and slightly spooky, and perfect for students who just want to read a little story at a time. Better yet, they’re a good fit for students who like to tell scary stories and need more material. This book, along with More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3, also has a lot of potential for ELA teachers currently working on short stories with their classes. With the accompanying CDs (sold separately, but available in some of our libraries) that include stories from all three volumes of Schwartz’s scary story collections, teachers will certainly be able to find at least a few to entertain, all while demonstrating the traditional elements of short stories. Note that the illustrations by Brett Helquist are far lighter than the original publications’ drawings by Stephen Gammell; the original books would certainly be scarier, and probably more appealing to teens.--Anja Kennedy

Schwartz, Alvin. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nevermore: A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe by Karen Lange

This approachable and engaging photobiography is a great match for anyone with even the slightest bit of curiosity regarding Edgar Allan Poe. All too often, Poe’s life is glossed over during short story and poetry units of study.  Packing a number of extant photos of Poe and his contemporaries, as well as the arc of his tumultuous 40 years of life into a slim 57 pages, this volume is a perfect introduction or second text on the subject of the life and times of Edgar Allan Poe.  Lange neatly covers real-life tragedies that lent themselves to literary masterpieces like “The Raven” and “The Tell-tale Heart” and inspired contemporary literature like Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events.  She similarly covers Poe’s tragic loves and places his writing in literary history, crediting him with the invention of detective fiction.

Backmatter includes a chronology, a list of quote sources, books, articles, and websites for further reading, an index, and illustration credits.  An excellent non-fiction text to supplement or include in ELA curricular studies, this volume straddles the divide between a simple text and a more challenging text in regard to layout, structure, and language features.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Lange, Karen.  Nevermore:  A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe.  Washington D.C.:  National Geographic, 2009.  Print.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

One Piece by Eiichiro Oda

If you like pirates, over-the-top characters, and long journeys, you’re going to love One Piece.  As this manga series starts we meet Luffy, a teenage boy who ate a devil fruit from a Gum-Gum Tree.  Unbeknownst to Luffy, the fruit grants him special powers at the cost of the ability to swim.  How then will Luffy be able to realize his dream of becoming the greatest pirate in history? Since this manga series is on the lengthy side with about 66 volumes, it will surely keep readers entertained for a long time.  One Piece may provide fodder for teachers working on topics that include debate skills as they prepare arguments on the subject of “Pirates vs. Ninjas.” In all seriousness, readers of manga series like Bleach, Naruto, Dragon Ball Z and Death Note will enjoy this prolific writer. --Claudio Leon

Oda, Eiichiro, and Lance Caselman. One Piece. San Francisco, CA: Viz, LLC, 2004. Print.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Accuser by Anne Schraff

When the neighborhood bully gets murdered, all clues seem to point towards Donyell’s brother, Ricky. Donyell doesn’t want to believe it, but Ricky was out late that night, he came home in bloody clothes, his face looked like it had taken a few punches, and most incriminating of all, he tells Donyell to lie for him and he leaves town for a few days. In a mere 30 pages, Donyell tries to solve this murder mystery by speaking with all the potential suspects, only to discover that he was mistakenly jumping to a lot of conclusions.

This book is part of the Quickreads series, a collection of high interest, low reading level books from Saddleback, and written by one of the authors of the tremendously popular Bluford High series. While it might not have a lot of appeal for students who like to sink their teeth into a longer story, it could be a good match for students looking for something they can get through in one class period or one evening. Our Reading Specialist at Bronx Hope likes to use books in this series while working with her students; this title is one she says students like the most. --Anja Kennedy

Schraff, Anne. The Accuser. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback, 2010. Print.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Sonia Rodriguez is determined to be the first in her family to graduate from high school.  However, Fortune does not seem to be favoring her aspirations.  As the oldest daughter in a traditional Mexican-American family, she must balance the academic demands of her teachers (at least one of which is an out-of-touch bigot) with the nearly all-consuming demands of her family.  When she balks at these responsibilities and focuses on her school work she is chastised and misjudged as conceited and lazy and sent to her abuelita’s in Mexico for the summer.  She soon realizes that she may have been doing a great deal of misjudging herself.  Sonia returns home with a new sense of her history and vision for her future, but the old obstacles remain as stubborn as ever and bad situations escalate quickly.  Will Sonia’s determination be enough to see her through?

Inspired by the lives and stories of the author’s own students, and vetted with them each step of the way, The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez is a modern Cinderella story, told in the fresh and feisty voice of its protagonist.  Beyond being an engaging coming-of-age story, it is also an interesting examination of stereotyping and prejudice in modern American society and full of rich character development.  Readers will find plenty to discuss, analyze, and debate.  With a Lexile of 800, it is aimed at students reading comfortably at a fifth or sixth grade level. --Regan Schwartz

Sitomer, Alan. The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez
. New York: Jump at the Sun Books, 2008. Print.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay by Ilan Stavans

It is possible that there is another more perfect photograph in a library book for sharing with students when Yom Kippur, a holiday they may have never heard of, occurs smack-dab in the middle of Latino/a History Month, but on page 62 of Ilan Stavan’s Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay, there is a wonderful image for sparking students’ curiosity and wonderings.  Here is a picture of Cesar Chavez holding a shofar.  Why is Cesar Chavez holding a shofar?

Serendipitous events aside, this book is essential for readers who have yet to wonder or have just begun to ask the question Who was Cesar Chavez?  With a minimum of text, this volume is an invitation to consider the life of the six-year old boy, his eighth-grade graduation photo, the farmworkers and farm life he concerned himself with, and the battles he fought to establish the humanity and dignity of farm workers.  Highly recommended as a supplement to Steinbeck’s Grape of Wrath, Zola’s Germinal, or units of study on child labor, human rights, activism, civil rights, labor movements, and revolution.  This book will also be of interest to instructors searching for accessible photobiographies with social relevance which include a higher degree of text-complexity than usually accompanies so much white space. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Stavans, Ilan.  Cesar Chavez:  A Photographic Essay.  El Paso:  Cinco Puntos Press, 2010. Print.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Usagi Yojimbo Book 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy by Stan Sakai

Welcome to Edo Japan! Usagi Yojimbo is the story of a rabbit named Miyamoto Usagi, a rounin (a samurai that doesn’t have a lord to serve) who wanders the land taking jobs as a yojimbo (bodyguard).  Throughout his journey Usagi meets many fascinating characters; some who become allies willing to aid him in his journey and others who turn into sworn enemies.  These characters help keep the story fresh as the focus is not constantly on Usagi. One of the series’ charms is the characters being anthropomorphic animals, which makes the otherwise bloody story more approachable.  The series is one of the longest I’ve seen, having well over 23 volumes. Although it is not necessary, I would recommend starting from book one since the story sometimes makes references to previous books.  The art is a cross between Japanese manga and western comics all drawn in black and white.  Teachers looking to introduce students to Japanese culture, history during the Edo era (1603 - 1868), and the Samurai code (Bushido) should look into this series.  Students that have enjoyed Buddha, Maus and Barefoot Gen would probably enjoy Usagi Yojimbo as well. --Claudio Leon

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

What else do you need to know, really? In this collection of historical biographies, all the facts point in one direction -- toward cause of death. Bragg expertly tells the story of nineteen well-known figures in history, from Mozart to King Tut to Edgar Allan Poe, in a mere four or five pages each. Granted, these biographies are not exhaustive, but they do describe who the person was, what they are famous for, and how they died.

Because of the historical nature of these awfully famous people, some of the deaths are quite gruesome, many having come about from less-advanced medical practice and widespread diseases. Mozart, for example, was only 35 when he died of strep throat in 1791; antibiotics were invented one hundred and forty years later. The details of his death are gory, but somehow Bragg’s sly sense of humor makes it all easy to digest.

With the addition of O’Malley’s whimsical illustrations and some fun trivia at the end of each chapter, this book is a sure winner among readers of history. Teachers and librarians will also appreciate the table of contents, bibliography, further reading suggestions and index.  --Anja Kennedy

Bragg, Georgia. How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous. New York: Walker & Company, 2011. Print.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Would You Rather: Doubly Disgusting by Justin Heimberg and David Gomberg

Would you rather get lost in your favorite novel, or debate with a group of your peers?  If you fall into the latter category, then this is the book for you.  It starts quietly, a question posed to a nearby friend, “Would you rather...” marking the discovery of this hilariously disgusting tome by another curious student.  Suddenly everyone is thinking long and hard about the options, weighing the pros and cons, and discussing the long-term ramifications of choices such as, “Would you rather clean yourself like a cat, or use a litter box like a cat?”  This small book is full of options designed to nauseate and repel, so it is obviously very popular.  One part joke book, one part introduction to debate, Would You Rather is an engaging and stress-free read for students that will get them talking about what they are reading, as well as a wonderful tool to introduce the idea of argument and debate to a class.  --Regan Schwartz

Heimberg, Justin and David Gomberg. Would You Rather: Doubly Disgusting. New York: Seven Footer Press, 2009. Print.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Drake by C. F. Earl

The wait is over.  New this year to the Superstars of Hip-Hop series from Mason Crest, Drake the biracial Canadian rapper on the rise since 2009 now has a spot on school library shelves. While this title would benefit from higher quality images and a reconsideration of the “hip-hop lingo” text boxes that define words as basic as “rap” (telegraphing to teens that this book does not recognize their prior knowledge), the current dearth of available library materials on this popular topic makes this volume worth considering.  Earl focuses on Drake’s ascent to stardom after establishing the music star's success as actor Aubrey Graham.  Earl pays particular attention to Drake’s use of the internet and mixtapes to create a fan base without the backing of a major label, and offers a sequential explanation of the artist's eventual connection with Lil’ Wayne which may have been previously obscure.  For urban teens not yet ready to tackle more challenging text, Drake offers an opportunity to access a simple expository text on a subject that will be of high interest to some.  The back matter includes a sparse timeline, web links, an index and picture credits.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Earl, C. F.  Drake.  Pennsylvania: Mason Crest, 2013. Print.

* note this review copy was provided by a publisher at the request of the reviewer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

This slim, poignant novel in verse introduces the reader to Lonnie Collins Motion, four years after a tragic accident took his parents and separated him from his beloved younger sister.  Bounced from home to home, Lonnie has finally found some stability in his foster mom, Ms. Edna, and his teacher, Ms. Marcus.  Told in Lonnie’s voice, through his poetry, Locomotion is an engaging and accessible glimpse into the mind of a bright and loving, but traumatized, young man.  Readers interested in exploring novels in verse will find in Locomotion a great place to start with its judicious use of white space, uncomplicated forms, and realistic middle grade vocabulary.  Throughout the book, Woodson uses the conceit of classroom writing, allowing her to naturally introduce and explain a variety of poetic forms, making Locomotion a fantastic introduction to a unit on poetry. --Regan Schwartz

Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion.  New York: Puffin Books, 2003.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bad Dog: 278 outspoken, indecent, and overdressed dogs by R. D. Rosen, Harry Prichett & Rob Battles

Looking for a laugh? Bad Dogs is popular with students who just want to browse and enjoy a few giggles while at it. This is a collection of photographs of dogs, all of them in compromising situations, ridiculous costumes, or both. The authors have included silly captions for each photo, written in the first person from the dog’s perspective. Also included are the pets’ names, ages and hobbies. A call for submissions in the back of the book implies that this is a collection of regular dogs, albeit with maybe not so regular owners. And while the title may suggest the featured dogs are bad, it seems obvious to this reader that these animals have the patience of saints. Also check out the book’s companion, an equally popular Bad Cats: 244 not-so-pretty kitties and cats gone bad.  --Anja Kennedy

Rosen, R. D., Harry Prichett, and Rob Battles. Bad Dog: 278 outspoken, indecent, and overdressed dogs. New York: Workman Publishing, 2005.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hulk Vs Wolverine by Damon Lindelof, art by Leinil Francis Yu & Dave McCaig

Two of Marvel’s biggest names come together to create a story fueled by love, betrayal and vengeance.  Told from the viewpoints of Bruce Banner, Betty Ross, Jennifer Walters and one relentless hunter, Wolverine, this story is full of twists, turns and surprises.  Bruce Banner, better known as the Incredible Hulk, has been sentenced to death but he (not surprisingly) survives the death sentence and goes into hiding.  In comes Wolverine who is ordered by Nick Fury to find and eliminate the Hulk.  The entire story plays out as a high octane action film with an underlying love story between Betty Ross and Bruce Banner.  Can Wolverine really bring an end to one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes?  And why would Nick Fury select Wolverine for this task out of all the other heroes?  Those aware of Jennifer’s true identity will be surprised at the turn of events.  This is a must read for any comic book fan. --Claudio Leon

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker

If who you are is a product of where you’re from, how do you stay true to yourself nearly a thousand miles from the only home you’ve ever known?  That’s exactly what Anthony “Ant” Jones tries to figure out when he’s sent to elite Belton Academy after witnessing a horrifying murder in his rough Cleveland neighborhood.  Over the course of the school year, Ant struggles to navigate the tricky private-school politics of race, class, and academic achievement as he works to find his place in the overwhelmingly white and wealthy crowd.  And yet, when he returns home for vacation, he finds himself a stranger on his own block. Can Ant succeed at Belton without losing his identity and alienating everyone who loves him?

Based on the author’s personal experience at prep school in Massachusetts, Black Boy White School is a thoughtful and engaging novel, full of believable characters and realistic situations.  The text is straightforward and well-suited to readers of popular teen fiction, such as the Drama High series, and the works of Allison Van Diepen.  Readers interested in race and politics will find a lot to think about in Brian F. Walker’s first book. --Regan Schwartz

Monday, September 10, 2012

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

There is more than geography separating the south and north sides of the Chicago suburb of Fairfield, IL.  On the north side, the houses are immense, the clothing gorgeous, the GPAs impeccable, and the pressure nearly suffocating.  There is a whole different kind of pressure on the south side, where poverty and gang warfare end lives far too early and protecting your loved ones often means giving up your future.  These two sides come together and often clash at Fairfield High School, where a tough chemistry teacher has partnered popular cheerleader Brittany Ellis with dangerous gang member Alex Fuentes.  Amused by this situation, Alex happily takes a bet that he can lure Brittany into his bed before the semester ends.  But as they cautiously grow closer, they both realize that under the stereotypes and the facades, they have more in common than they ever thought possible.  Will it be enough to save them from the futures everyone else has mapped out for them?

Told in both main characters voices, this fast-paced novel, full of realistic relationships and dangerous situations is a hit.  This title will appeal to readers looking for teen romance and gritty “real life” novels.  Although the epilogue pushes the boundaries of believability, sometimes a bit of a fairytale ending is just what a reader needs. -- Regan Schwartz