Friday, January 27, 2012

Programming Spotlight: Paul Griffin at Boys Town

On Wednesday, January 25th, author Paul Griffin visited Boys Town for the first time. Paul met with both the boys and girls classes whom had just finished reading Mr. Griffin’s beloved novel, Ten Mile River. Mr. Griffin was exited to hear the student’s keen observations on his writing and discuss their many informed questions. One such student who was currently reading Paul Griffins’ The Orange Houses commented that Mr. Griffin writes about incarceration and the foster care system with the understanding of someone who has actually gone through these systems and wanted to know how(if at all) he was connected to them. Mr. Griffin informed the student of his background teaching and presenting workshops in many of New York City's sites of detention for youth. Paul Griffin ended the visit by telling the students ‘we all need to work together’ and that ‘love is the best medicine for the soul.’ --L. A. Gabay

Monday, January 23, 2012

Grace After Midnight: a Memoir by Felicia "Snoop" Pearson and David Ritz

Some of the most popular requests from students are for books about “real life.” Sometimes they’re looking for realistic fiction, but often they’re looking for a real story about a real person who has been through difficult times. Grace After Midnight fits the bill. Anyone who has watched the latter part of HBO’s groundbreaking series The Wire will know Snoop’s character, a soldier for Marlo’s drug-dealing crew who commits murders with calm professionalism. What they may not know is that Felicia “Snoop” Pearson was living a life very similar to her character’s when she was discovered by one of the actors in the show. Recruited for being “perfect” for the role, Snoop’s life was suddenly turned upside down.

Snoop tells her story in a simple and direct way that is sure to draw students in to her world. Opening with a memory of her birth mother, a crack-addicted woman who once sold the clothes off Snoop’s back for drugs, this story pulls the reader in from the very beginning. It’s filled with memories of her life with the foster parents she loves, her crime-filled neighborhood, and her time in prison. She’s also very candid about her sexual identity and her relationships with women. --Anja Kennedy

Friday, January 20, 2012

Paul Griffin Visits Passages Academy - Crossroads

Paul Griffin, author of Ten Mile River, The Orange Houses, and Stay With Me, spent yesterday morning deep in conversation with students at Passages Academy - Crossroads.  Three lucky classes had the chance to talk with Paul about his life as an author, delve into his newest book, and engage in some vigorous conversation around the role of storytelling in our daily lives.  I think the chorus of "when are you coming back?!" that rang out at the end of his session with a group of high school boys says more than I ever could about the positive impact his visits have.  Thank you, Mr. Griffin! --Regan Schwartz

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Have A Dream

Click here to see Michael Rachap's short short clip of MLK's famous "I Have a Dream" speech from 1968 with synchronized text-- great for emerging readers who want to see the words as they hear Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s singular delivery.

One of many links to the entire audio of the speech is here.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan

Like vampires but tired of Twilight?  Darren Shan has the remedy: his Cirque du Freak series.

The main character- a fictionalized Darren Shan- lives in a normal town, with a normal family, goes to a normal high school, and has normal friends.  Until the Cirque du Freak comes to town, anyway.  Steve, Darren’s best friend, accompanies Darren to the illicit entertainment venue, and both are enthralled by Rhamus Two-Bellies, Truska the Bearded Lady, and Mr. Crepsley’s poisonous, exotic spider, Madam Octa, who performs tricks.

When both boys find themselves in dire trouble, the only cure is Darren’s death…or half-death, to be more precise.  Mr. Crepsley, who turns out to be a vampire, saves the day by taking Darren’s humanity.  Now a half-vampire and full-time vampire’s assistant to Mr. Crepsley, Darren is faced with more of the supernatural than he ever fantasized about.

Simple but descriptive writing make this series entertaining and suspenseful.  The reading level floats somewhere near the fourth grade level, though it would hardly be insulting to present to a more advanced or older student as the material is compelling and adventure-filled. All told, the series is a fun escape from the drama-ridden fiction that tends to prevail in adolescent literature.  --Julie Weber

Julie Weber recently finished an MFA in non-fiction writing and has been teaching ELA, and assorted other subjects, at Passages Academy since 2006. When not immersed in the world of letters, she can be found either coaching or playing volleyball.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Playground by 50 Cent with Laura Moser

Butterball, a sometime-bully, sometime-victim of bullying, offers a protagonist some readers will be able to readily identify with-- he’s young, he’s angry, and he feels like he’s been given a rotten deal. The story opens with Butterball facing a therapist after being threatened with an expulsion for knocking a kid in the face with a sock full of batteries. Butterball is clearly angry that his parents split up and he had to move out to Long Island with his mother, but he also appreciates the benefits of his situation. I expect that younger teen readers will be quickly engaged in this coming-of-age story which invites a deeper look at the choices Butterball made and the path that led him to become a bully, as well as passage through the denial Butterball initially experiences in regard to his mother’s new life and his father’s character.

Educators may be interested to know the book includes phrases like “you crazy b****.” Interestingly, Penguin describes the book as appropriate for 12 year olds and up.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Monday, January 9, 2012

Something Like Hope by Shawn Goodman

Shavonne is living out a life that seems to have gotten away from her. First incarcerated in the eighth grade, and filled with shame and anger, she lashes out at those around her in the most self-destructive ways - all but ensuring that she will be moved to an adult prison on her approaching 18th birthday. Shavonne faces many obstacles: an absent, crack-addicted mother; a little brother who seems to exist only in her distant memories; a baby girl growing up in foster care; and an institution that doesn’t seem to know how to, or want to, help her. But in the unlikeliest of places, with the unlikeliest of allies, she may just find something like hope.

Goodman has created a fascinating and complex character in Shavonne, whose thoughts, feelings, and actions feel authentic. Fans of Paul Griffin’s Ten Mile River and Matt de la Pena’s We Were Here will find in Shavonne a hero facing familiar demons with remarkable insight. --Regan Schwartz

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Question: Best Books for Youth in Detention?

Dear Readers,

We love Amy Cheney's list of her Top Picks for Youth in Detention published yesterday by School Library Journal. The book students at Passages checked out most frequently in the last year was Coe Booth's Tyrell. Students in secure detention haven't been able to get their hands on Bronxwood because it hasn't been released in paperback yet (or many other books on this list, for that matter). What would you pick as the top book(s) for youth in detention in 2011? What are you the most excited about for 2012?

--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

PAL iPad Pilot Launches at Passages

Today Passages Academy Libraries' iPad pilot launched! Students at secure sites accessed iPads for the first time. One incredulous user asked "Are we really going to be able to use [them] again?" --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Exciting News: National Treasure Named National Ambassador

Welcome back and Happy 2012! We were already excited about today (stay tuned!) but now we're doubly excited to find out that this year will be the best one yet for the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature (in our biased opinion). The inestimable Walter Dean Myers picks up the mantle and will spend the next two years traveling about (as he is already wont to do) encouraging folks to read. Could they have picked a better humanitarian and author for this job? Um, no. They could not. Congratulations, Walter! Excellent work, selection committee! --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Read about it in yesterday's New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.

Photo credit: Constance Myers