Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Programming Spotlight: Alex Simmons Visits Crossroads

On Tuesday, April 24th, author Alex Simmons visited Passages' middle school boys and girls at Crossroads, a secure facility in Brooklyn.  Mr. Simmons is a prolific professional writer who has authored many comic books (including many Archie and DC Comics titles and his own independent comic - Blackjack), as well as fiction and nonfiction books for youth, theater and radio plays, and even games!  He spoke about his life as a freelance writer, and about the many careers available in the comics industry.  All of the participants received copies of Obama and Palin in Riverdale, generously provided by LIT, which Mr. Simmons autographed.  Students also had a chance to practice creating their own comic character, and to autograph their work for Mr. Simmons who collected it to possibly include in his Kids' Art Gallery.

Mr. Simmons is also hard at work organizing this year's Kids Comic Con, on May 5th in the Bronx. --Regan Schwartz

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Library Alchemy

William Bevill, librarian at Pima County Public Library's Juvenile Detention Center Branch has landed! He's in town to teach us unconference attendees how to perform a magic trick: turning hardcovers into softcovers for circulation. William kindly provided us with some photos of what we'll be able to do by Friday afternoon. For more information about our upcoming unconference, click here. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Monday, April 23, 2012

The UnConference is Coming! April 27, 2012

This Friday, April 27th, 2012, Passages Academy Libraries is hosting the first unconference on school libraries serving incarcerated and detained youth.  Learn more here.  Sign up here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spotlight Interview: Barbara Stripling

Barbara Stripling is running for ALA President! We've had the pleasure of working with her through her former role as Director of New York City's Office of School Library Services, where we've been awed by her dedication to supporting professionals, youth, families, and leaders, and her constant commitment to bringing special populations' needs to the table. We couldn't be more thrilled to see her lead ALA as President.

Barb graciously took time to answer a few questions for the What's Good? editors and we'll be sharing them all week. Stay tuned... and don't forget to vote!

WG:  What do you see as the most pressing reading needs for incarcerated and detained youth in 2012?  In the next five years?

Barb: I have thought a lot about this question.  I don’t presume to be an expert on the needs of incarcerated and detained youth, but I do have some ideas based on my conversations with Jessica Fenster-Sparber and other librarians in New York City who serve this population.  I think the greatest need may be for library access.  I suspect that many of our incarcerated and detained youth have no opportunity to use a library at all and, therefore, have very limited or no access to books that they want to read or to instruction in information skills.

The second greatest need is for the librarians who currently serve these young people to receive support through professional development and networking.  ASCLA has played an essential role in this by offering ongoing webinars, programming at conferences, policy and practice work in the division, and an interest group focused on the issues confronted by librarians serving incarcerated and detained youth. ALA needs to support ASCLA’s continuing efforts.

Another issue I have seen in providing library services to these young people is that, even if the facility actually has a library, there will most likely be very few good books in the library’s collection.    The funding for books is minimal at best; consequently, very few new books can be purchased.  In one facility I visited, the “library” was stocked with uncatalogued, donated books like The Tale of Two Cities.  When I think about the reading habits of incarcerated and detained youth, my sense is that these young people like to read about authentic characters in authentic situations.  I think they also enjoy many of the same genres that all young people enjoy – graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy. These youth should have access to the latest and most popular fiction books for teens.

I am sure that they also enjoy reading or perusing nonfiction, partly because they have limited access to the world that other teens enjoy as a normal part of their day – music, sports, computers, and gaming, for example.  Research tells us that teens (especially young men) enjoy having exportable knowledge – facts about various subjects that they can drop in to conversations as nuggets of expertise – so a robust nonfiction collection for detained youth would be especially important.

Because of the transitory nature of many of these students (perhaps they are in that facility only while they are awaiting trial), I think they would be well served by collections of short stories, easily accessible nonfiction, graphic novels, magazines, and other items that they can finish in the time they are there.  Many incarcerated youth are struggling readers, so age-appropriate, high-interest/low-vocabulary fiction books and heavily illustrated nonfiction books at a variety of reading levels would serve these young people well.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spotlight Interview: Barbara Stripling

WG:  What’s your favorite thing to read and your favorite place to read?

Barb:  I read every day.  My favorite type of book to read depends a little on my circumstances at the time.  When I am stressed or too busy, I consume mysteries.  For me, they are the perfect escape literature and I read them very quickly.  I have a number of favorite authors and I read every one of their books when they come out.

I also love to read authors like Jodi Picoult, who writes fiction about important social issues.  I have to take a deep breath before I start one of her novels, because I know it is going to push me to think about hard issues, but once I start reading, I cannot stop.  She brings characters and real human dilemmas to life and I never want her books to end.

I also read nonfiction fairly regularly – biographies, accounts of historical times, even mountaineering.

My favorite place to read is outdoors, perhaps a reflection of my limited access to outdoor reading spaces when I lived in New York City.  I cannot think of a more perfect afternoon than sitting in the woods by a stream with a good book to read.  More realistically, my favorite places to read in New York City were the subway and in bed at night.  I loved my time on the subway every day – my commute to work and back was a treasured hour for reading.  I still read every night before I go to sleep (a dangerous proposition when I am in the middle of a really good mystery).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spotlight Interview: Barbara Stripling

WG:  Can you tell What’s Good? readers a little bit about your experiences working with and supporting educators who work with struggling readers?

Barb:  I have been interested in supporting struggling readers since I was a high school English teacher and then a high school librarian.  I focused my efforts as a high school librarian in teaching students to think, to read with meaning, and to be independent readers and learners.  I am so thankful for all those years of direct contact with students, because those experiences frame all my decisions as an administrator and now a library educator.

When I was Director of School Library Services in New York City, I tried to support librarians working with struggling readers by addressing three main issues – access, interest, and skills.  Of course, the access issue is probably a major reason why students struggle.  If students have had no access to reading materials in the home, then they have not had the same exposure to reading and books as other students.  Libraries can fill that gap through robust collections and engaging library instructional programs.  We offered regular professional development sessions for our librarians to help them develop the types of collections and the instructional services that targeted the needs of their students.

We were fortunate in New York City that some foundations and businesses recognized our students’ need for greater access to good school libraries and great books.  The Heart of America Foundation worked with Capitol One and Target to fund a number of school library renovation grants.  These makeovers included books for the library collection and books for the students to take home for their personal libraries.  I will never forget one young elementary school girl who clutched her new books to her chest, looked me in the eye, and said, “For me?”

Interest is also critical for struggling readers.  We have tried several programs in NYC to help librarians motivate students to read.  For several years, our Office of Library Services has offered mini-grants to school libraries around reading.  The mini-grants have enabled librarians to build their collections around teen-to-tween issues, nonfiction, teen fiction, and curriculum project ideas.  Our Office developed a New Yorkers Read grant that focused on well-written nonfiction books and the formation of book clubs so that students could talk about the ideas in the books.  Through the mini-grants, we tried to help our libraries offer up-to-date books on topics that students loved to read about.  We wanted our students to be able to have choices about what they wanted to read.

Finally, we provided a lot of professional development and curriculum support for librarians to address the skill gaps of struggling readers.  Our Information Fluency Continuum was designed to lay out the literacy, critical thinking, technology, and information skills that students need to gather meaning from what they read.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spotlight Interview: Barbara Stripling

WG:  If elected, how would you plan to support the provision of library services for incarcerated and detained youth?

Barbara Stripling: I have already been involved with supporting the provision of library services for incarcerated and detained youth by helping to develop the “Prisoners’ Right to Read: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” as a member of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee.  This interpretation was approved by ALA Council in 2010 and is now part of the Intellectual Freedom Manual.  I will continue to support any policy or intellectual freedom document that addresses the rights of these young people and provides ALA support for librarians serving these youth.

I will support the strengthening of the librarian community and addressing the issues of those who serve incarcerated youth by supporting the efforts of ASCLA and connecting its members with members in other divisions and ALA at large who are concerned with these issues.  In fact, I plan to focus, as ALA President, on making ALA more inclusive by opening the communication lines from members to ALA and from member to member (through a more collaborative structure for ALA Connect, for example).

Finally, I hope to foster more opportunities for members to contribute to the shared expertise of all members through the flexible formation of interest groups, the facilitation of conversations among all types of librarians (both virtual and face-to-face), and increased access to virtual professional development.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Henson Legacy Visits Crossroads

On Thursday March 29th, the fantastic world of Jim Henson and the Muppets came to Passages Academy’s library at Crossroads.  Ms. Bonnie Erickson, Executive Director of The Jim Henson Legacy, came to speak with the high school and middle school girls about her experiences in advertising and television.   In her conversation with the girls, she answered questions and spoke about how she came to work with Jim Henson on some of his early projects in the 1970’s. She shared about how important it is for an individual to follow her dreams and find something that she loves, and to stick with it.  

Prior to Ms. Erickson’s visit, the girls had the opportunity to create puppets of their own using an idea from the book 10 Minute Puppets by Noel MacNeal. During the visit the girls were invited to use their puppets and puppeteer along with a scene from “The Muppet Show”.  Ms. Erickson and The Jim Henson Legacy donated puppet kits that the girls will be able to use to build and write scripts for May’s upcoming visit from Leslie Carrara-Rudloph, the puppeteer of popular Sesame Street character Abby Cadabby.

Ms. Erickson was very excited and inspired by the dedicated staff of Crossroads, and the work that is done with the students.  She is looking forward to coming back to work with the students again. -- Mike Lopez

Guest blogger Mike Lopez currently teaches ELA at Passages Academy's Crossroads site and is busy organizing many future programs for our students.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bigfoot Caught on Film and Other Monster Sightings! by Michael Teitelbaum


This slim volume, part of the 24/7 Science Behind the Scenes series, is a vibrantly accessible and visually appealing foray into the field of cryptozoology.  This book reads like an episode of MonsterQuest, presenting a wealth of data on Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and sea monsters and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.  In just sixty-four pages of text, the author manages to include all of the major features of nonfiction, including a table of contents, headings and subheadings, bold faced words, sidebars, photographs with captions, maps, charts, an index, a resource list, and a glossary.  The main text is clearly organized and contains many quotes and photographs from primary source documents.  There is even an interview with a primatologist who also studies Bigfoot as a hobby.  Unfortunately, some of the supplementary pages are a bit overwhelming to look at and confusing to navigate, though I’m sure the images alone will be enough to convince an interested reader to give it a go!  Bigfoot Caught on Film would be a great text to use in an introduction to inquiry, as a starting point for more thorough research. -- Regan Schwartz