Friday, December 20, 2013

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga


I Hunt Killers will make your spine tingle as the protagonist tries to navigate his relationships with other humans, while thinking of the best ways to kidnap them and kill them.  Every social interaction is an internal battle for Jazz, who was raised by the United States’ most notorious serial killer - his father Billy Dent.  Billy took Jazz on nearly every outing and Jazz witnessed almost every one of Billy’s murders.  Billy is now in prison, Jazz’s mother is nowhere to be found, and a new serial killer mimicking Billy’s murders has appeared.  Now, Jazz has a choice to make: use his experience to catch a copycat killer, or follow in his father’s infamous footsteps.  Jazz wants to be a normal teen with a normal life, but with Billy’s voice echoing in his ears, that is far easier said than done.


Readers of titles like Hell’s Horizon and The Escape From Furnace series should enjoy reading I Hunt Killers. This title is best suited for experienced independent readers looking for a riveting read. --Claudio Leon


Lyga, Barry. I Hunt Killers. New York City: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012. Print.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

East Side Dreams by Art Rodriguez

Rodriguez’s heartfelt memoir begins with the night that changed his life and led to his lengthy stay in a juvenile detention facility. Growing up in a Mexican-American family in San Jose, California, Rodriguez had a mother who was seemingly oblivious to his violent antics and a father who believed that physical abuse was the only way to set his children straight. While sometimes providing more detail than needed, Rodriguez’s storytelling makes it easy for the reader to picture his family, his neighborhood and the detention facility where he spent so much time. Rodriguez is clearly proud of the way his life turned out; he left the fighting and trouble-making for a happier life, one with a large family and his own business. Unfortunately, Rodriguez glosses over that process, and it’s never entirely clear what motivated him to turn his life around. Still, this book is likely to be popular with students who ask for books about real people who have spent time in prison.  --Anja Kennedy


Rodriguez, Art. East Side Dreams. San Jose, CA: Dream House Press, 1999. Print.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The 10 Most Outrageous Hoaxes by Judy Coghill


Want to know the truth about the famous haunting in Amityville, NY?  Or about who masterminded the Milli Vanilli scandal?  Then The 10 Most Outrageous Hoaxes is the book for you.  This slim volume is full of background information on some of the most surprising and gutsy hoaxes from the last century.  Each piece of trickery is introduced with a full-page photograph and a few paragraphs of text.  This is followed by a couple of pages illustrated with full-color photographs and sidebars, delving deeper into the hoax.  There are also short sections on mass media pranks and internet legends, as well as other hoaxes to look up.  Front and back matter include a table of contents and a thorough index.  Readers interested in the conspiracies and the unknown will find plenty to digest and discuss here. --Regan Schwartz

Coghill, Judy. The 10 Most Outrageous Hoaxes. Danbury, CT: Scholastic Library Publishing, 2007. Print.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Last Night I Sang To the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz



Eighteen-year old Zach wakes up to find himself living in a addiction treatment center.  He can’t remember how he got there, but does remember his clinically depressed mother, his alcoholic father, and his violent, abusive brother.  As the story unfolds, Zach narrates in his sad, sometimes Holden Caulfield-esque voice his struggles to feel his feelings and all that he is learning through the group therapy he participates in with adults.  For independent adolescent readers willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, this book offers perspective on the emotional world of a recovering teen alcoholic who is also attempting to heal from trauma.  Readers who appreciate emotional insight and nuance in character development will enjoy this text. Social workers may want to be aware of this one.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Saenz, Benjamin Alire.  Last Night I Sang to the Monster.  El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press, 2012.  Print.

Monday, December 9, 2013

2 Days by L. B. Tillit




Sixteen year old Neema tells her mother that her mom’s boyfriend is touching her and her mom kicks Neema out of their house.  Shocked and seeking safety, Neema goes to her boyfriend’s house and his family reluctantly takes her in.  Neema finds solace in her boyfriend’s arms, misses two days of birth control pills, and realizes several short chapters later that she is now pregnant.  How she handles this situation makes up the rest of the story.  A tightly paced hi-lo alternative for Bluford fans, reading specialists and ELA teachers will want to know about this title for teen girls ready for chapter books and looking to build their stamina.  An interesting compare and contrast on the theme of teen parenthood may be done with Williams-Garcia’s Like Sisters on the Homefront and Porter’s Imani All Mine, as well as Johnson’s The First Part Last.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber


Tillit, L. B.  2 Days.  Costa Mesa: Saddleback Publishing, 2012.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Blueprint for My Girls in Love: 99 Rules for Dating, Relationships, and Intimacy by Yasmin Shiraz


This year has seen an increased demand for books about relationships from girls here at Bronx Hope. Blueprint for My Girls in Love is often exactly what they’re looking for. Author and empowerment speaker Yasmin Shiraz has compiled ninety-nine rules for girls to help them keep their heads up and stay strong in the face of love and dating. Divided into three parts, Dating, Relationships, and Intimacy, Shiraz breaks it down with simple statements from the powerful, rule #12, “Self-love impacts every relationship that you will ever have” to the blunt, rule #32, “A boyfriend that hits you isn’t worth keeping.” For each of her ninety-nine rules, Shiraz describes the rule, includes a related personal anecdote to support the rule, and follows it with what she calls a “blueprint” and “your testimony.” The blueprints are usually one-liners where she models how she will take what she’s experienced and change her actions in the future; “your testimony” includes questions and sentence starters for readers to think about how they can connect their own stories to Shiraz’s rules.  Included in the back of the book is a section on who readers can talk to when they need support and, separately, information about birth control. Recommended for independent reading, especially for girls looking to make sense of their relationships with some straight-forward advice. --Anja Kennedy


Shiraz, Yasmin. Blueprint for My Girls in Love: 99 Rules for Dating, Relationships, and Intimacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005. Print.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Eric Shanower



"Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!"  The yellow brick road that leads Dorothy Gale and her friends to the Emerald City of Oz is a beloved cultural icon for many.  Because the works of L. Frank Baum have been adapted countless times, in film, stage, television, book, and comic form, it is also a relatively accessible one.  This Eisner Award-winning graphic offering from Marvel is a whimsical and richly detailed work, designed to bring the land of Oz to a new audience.  


The action of the story follows the novel, with no reference to the famous MGM film, which may throw off some readers.  However, teachers of English may be interested in using this, along with the original and, possibly, the film, to address Common Core reading standards aimed at evaluating content presented in diverse media.  Since L. Frank Baum was also a playwright and stage adaptations of his work are available, it may be a good fit for Passages Academy’s drama unit. --Regan Schwartz

Shanower, Eric. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Adapted from the novel by L. Frank Baum. New York: Marvel, 2011. Print.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Plan B by Charnan Simon



Lucy has the seemingly perfect boyfriend in Luke, a hot athlete who is currently being scouted by a big university.  Her single, working mom has been able to provide a stable and secure life for Lucy who has flourished both academically and socially.  Lucy has earned her mother’s trust and, as she gains independence, she is faced with the challenges of making decisions while alone with Luke.  As the cover of this short novel conveys, an unplanned pregnancy occurs and Lucy is forced to negotiate her options.  While Plan B does not offer readers a resolution, nor the grit reluctant readers frequently seek here at Passages, it does give pre-teen girls a chance to think about and discuss the critical topics of birth control, sex, and unplanned pregnancies. Reading specialists may be interested in using this book with developing readers. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber



Simon, Charnan.  Plan B.  Minneapolis: Darby Creek, 2011.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Hand You’re Dealt by Paul Volponi


Huck Porter, high school senior, is caught in a stick up in an elevator and faces down the gunman, calling his bluff by betting he won’t shoot.  This is the opening scene of Paul Volponi’s poker novel for teens.  Set in a small town with a depressed economy, Huck’s father was the town’s reigning poker champion before his father was hospitalized for a stroke.  Mr. Abbott, Huck’s untouchable jerk of a math teacher, steals the title from Huck’s dad while he is dying in the hospital and rubs his achievement in Huck’s face.  Huck’s mission, of course, is to win the title back, in spite of not being old enough to legally gamble.  Along the way, The Hand You’re Dealt teaches the reader about reading people, emotional maturity, and friendship.  Recommended independent reading for experienced YA readers looking for more Volponi or with an interest in poker.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber


Volponi, Paul.  The Hand You’re Dealt.  New York: Antheum Books for Young Readers, 2008. Print.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Juvenile in Justice by Richard Ross

“On any given day, approximately 70,000 young people are in juvenile detention or correctional facilities each night.”  Teaching inside juvenile facilities tends to isolate us from our colleagues throughout the city and nation in unique ways; but we are never as isolated by these facilities as are the students we teach.  Juvenile in Justice captures the loneliness our students share, ironically, with many of the 1.7 million youth charged with an offense annually in the US.  The beds, windows, clothes, doors, furniture, graffiti, and restraints are all strikingly familiar, from our own Bridges and Horizon, both featured in the book, all the way to Hawaii.  The image of a young man in Miami lying on common area seating with his sweatshirt pulled over his head and knees stunned me as penetratingly recognizable .  I know many of this blog’s readers have witnessed the same mini-retreat within one’s own clothing, an identifiable attempt at privacy or sleep.  Each image is coupled with a quote from the youth photographed, offering our students opportunities to connect visually and textually. --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Ross, Richard. Juvenile in Justice. Santa Barbara, CA: Richard Ross, 2012. Print.

Out of Print Books We Wish Were in Print

We occasionally experience the heartbreaking disappointment of finding that a beloved title has gone out of print.  We have decided to memorialize these works in a new page, “Out of Print Books We Wish Were in Print,” which you can access in the righthand menu.  We hope not to add many titles to this list, and that someday they will be published once again.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Question of Freedom by R. Dwayne Betts



“By eighteen I’d been shuffled between a county jail, a prison intake center and three prisons.  I’d been in isolation for thirty-five days and segregation for six months.  I’d been at the prison deemed the warehouse for Virginia’s most violent and dangerous criminals. . . . Red Onion was a level six, a super max.”  (184-5)


While structurally challenging, A Question of Freedom, Betts’ memoir of his years incarcerated after a carjacking at age 16, is undeniably relevant for many, if not most, incarcerated detained youth in New York City.  A Question of Freedom takes its reader on Betts’ harrowing journey through the cold, impersonal corrections system in Virginia and relays the author’s observations and emotional development as a young man.  A cautionary tale for young people who have not yet lost their freedom; an inspiring journey for those who can make it through the two hundred plus pages and appreciate where Betts is today along with the hard lessons he has learned.  A Question of Freedom is a recommended addition to the non-fiction collection of any teacher of urban young men.  Mature independent readers will find this text to be of interest, and it also may be appeal to book clubs, especially in excerpted form. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Penguin offers a discussion guide to A Question of Freedom here.

Betts, R. Dwayne.  A Question of Freedom.  New York: Penguin, 2010.  Print.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Historias De Miedo: 1 by Alvin Schwartz

If you’re looking for scary stories in Spanish you’re in luck!  Historias de Miedo (Scary Stories) is filled with a wide range of short horror stories written in Spanish. No story is longer than three pages, making the book a quick read for those looking to read it cover to cover or those just looking for a quick scare fix.  The book seems a good fit for middle schoolers, because it is unlikely that any of the stories will keep students up at night; a few tales were more funny than scary.   The book is divided by chapters, each one containing a category of stories such as: ghosts, stories that will make you jump, scary stories about everyday dangers and even a funny scary stories section.  Tales are accompanied by black and white pictures that complement the story.  My favorite was a comic strip like tale told through four panels about the sea waves coming in and out of the beach called, “El Slideri-di,” which translates to “the sliding slide” or something along those lines.


At the end of the book is an annotated bibliography with details about the background of the stories and their original source. Students looking for not so serious horror stories should enjoy this book. -- Claudio Leon


Schwartz, Alvin. Historias de Miedo: 1. Editorial Everest, 1981. Print.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl by Carolita Blythe




Faye and her friends break into an old woman’s apartment and rob her as this novel begins.  Disappointed and rattled, Faye returns home to her abusive mother who has anger issues, only to be haunted by the possibility that she may have accidentally caused the death of her victim. Concerned with the concept of karma, Faye revisits the scene of the crime to learn what fate she has wrought herself.  Set in the eighties in Brooklyn, reluctant teen readers will miss some of the nostalgia and humor, but more experienced readers will enjoy the ride nonetheless.  Fans of Sharon Flake and Sharon Draper will enjoy this novel which is a bit longer and relies more heavily on sarcasm and inference. However, Blythe’s writing is tightly plotted and the short chapters are well placed to create a sense of momentum and suspense as Faye’s journey through freshman year unfolds. Strongly recommended for middle school and younger high school independent reading as well as book clubs.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber


Blythe, Carolita.  Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl.  New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rage: True Stories by Teens About Anger edited by Laura Longhine


Very few opening lines have more potential to grab a detainee’s attention than one that places the reader in media res while the narrator is making a guilty plea to a judge. Fred W.’s “Loose Cannon” does just that, taking the reader from the courtroom to a secure detention facility (Goshen),  and on to an outpatient drug treatment program.  Natasha Santos’ “Bum-rushed by the Past” follows with a similarly strong opening: “This is the story of a girl born in the projects, neglected by her parents, and tormented by memories of families she is no longer a part of.  It’s about how I spent six years in foster care and got adopted.”  While the collection’s diversity of perspectives may make it difficult for reluctant and developing readers to consume cover to cover, the topical themes will motivate more sophisticated readers to explore the panoply of voices in these seventeen stories.  Notably, all of the seventeen were written by teens and they are complemented by an end interview with Toni Heineman, therapist, who discusses healthy and unhealthy ways to express anger.  ELA teachers looking for personal essays as well as bridges between short stories and memoirs will want to check this out.  Social workers will want to have a copy of Rage on hand to direct students to piecemeal.  ---Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Longhine, Laura.  Rage:  True Stories by Teens About Anger.  Minneapolis:  Free Spirit Publishing, 2012.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Evil Behind That Door by Barbara Fradkin


Cedric is helping his high school classmate, Barry Mitchell, get his parents decrepit, old farmhouse into shape.  Problem is, Barry’s a violent guy with a history - he was sent away at the age of five because of his fits of rage - and his parents have suddenly gone missing.  Cedric is walking on eggshells around him, trying to get the work done and not set him off.  When he discovers an old locked door in the basement, Cedric is intrigued by Barry’s fear and aversion to it.  Taking a serious risk, he returns alone and pries it open.  What he finds inside calls into question everything he thinks he knows about Barry and his family.  There was a monster in the Mitchell household, but it might not have been young Barry.


Evil behind That Door is a Rapid Reads publication, intended for adult reluctant readers.  The action begins in the first few pages and the quick pace carries through to the end.  While the rural setting may be unfamiliar to urban teen readers, the mystery is compelling and suspenseful and the narrative and language are straightforward.  Readers who are ready to move beyond Goosebumps, may find Evil Behind That Door is a good choice for a creepy independent read.  Reading specialists looking for interesting new material may want to check it out, as well. --Regan Schwartz

Fradkin, Barbara. Evil Behind That Door. Victoria, Canada: Raven Books, 2012. Print.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield



Kendra is a sexual abuse survivor who is in therapy for her trauma. As Scars begins, Kendra is beginning to believe that her abuser, whose identity she has blocked from memory, is stalking her.  She is too terrified to report the threats she is receiving, and she cuts herself to cope.  Will she find the safety and help she needs before it’s too late?  Experienced urban teen readers looking for “drama,” as well as those who request survivor stories like A Child Called It will enjoy this suspenseful novel in spite of its suburban setting.  A teaching guide provided by the author herself may appeal to book group facilitators working with teenage girls. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Rainfield, Cheryl.  Scars.  New York:  WestSide Books, 2011.  Print.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Panic by Sharon Draper


Justin is the only male dancer at the local dance studio and he loves to partner with Layla.  Layla is a beautiful, but insecure, dancer who has a hot, possessive boyfriend and is missing her dad who has been incarcerated for six years.  Mercedes is usually hanging out with Layla and Diamond when they’re not dancing.  Diamond and Mercedes drop by the mall to run an errand, and while Mercedes is making a purchase, Diamond disappears.  Was she kidnapped by the handsome man she left the building with?  Draper’s newest novel alternates between these four high school protagonists and their perspectives as Diamond’s disappearance affects their lives and their community.  Themes of online safety, stranger danger, domestic violence, and the social lives of adolescents make this title a strong pick for a girls’ book club (8th grade and up).  Former English teacher Draper thoughtfully provides discussion questions and possible essay assignments on her website.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber


Draper, Sharon.  Panic.  New York: Atheneum, 2013.  Print.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In Darkness by Nick Lake




While recovering from a gunshot wound, fifteen-year-old Shorty becomes buried underneath the hospital when the 2010 earthquake strikes Haiti.  Trapped in complete darkness, no one can hear his screams except for those lying dead beside him and the rats.  Now awaiting help or death, Shorty recounts the events that landed him in the hospital, his mother’s political involvement in the Aristide movement, his sister’s kidnapping, and his involvement in the pro-Aristide gang, or chimére.  Shorty and Toussaint L’Ouverture, famed hero of the Haitian Revolution, each “possess” each others’ dreams, alternating points of view throughout the novel.  Folk history claims that L’Ouverture was possessed by the war god Ogun during a Voudou ceremony, establishing his leadership in the rebellion; however, Lake writes an alternate version in which Shorty possesses L’Ouverture.  Other liberties with history and religious imagery are taken, which Katie Orenstein writes about in her New York Times review.  Shorty’s immersion in gang culture and its close ties with Haiti’s political stability reminded this reader of the documentary Ghosts of Cité Soleil.  Students interested in books about gangs may enjoy this 2012 Printz winner.  Teachers may appreciate Bloomsbury’s reading guide for discussion questions and background information. -Anne Lotito-Schuh



Lake, Nick. In Darkness. London: Bloomsbury, 2012. Print.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories Edited by Christine Perkins Hazuka, Tom Hazuka, and Mark Budman


In need of a short story? An extremely short story?  Check out Sudden Flash Youth.  65 short short stories—none of them longer than four pages— is a worthwhile place to start looking for the shortest fiction that is closer to the “highly sophisticated” end of the text complexity spectrum.  Readers with a preference for an urban voice can go straight to “A Whole Other,” which deftly reveals the differences between what we think and what we say and do.  Those who enjoy the Twist anthologies can  check out “Little Brother ™,” by Bruce Holland Rogers.  Readers in search of  literary experiments may enjoy Voskuil’s eerie “Currents.”  Coming of age themes abound, notably relevant for LGBTQ youth in Konigsberg’s “After” and Soares’ “Haircut.”   Other noteworthy shorts include Hazuka’s “Homeward Bound,” and Dagolds’ fable “The Two Rats and the BB Gun.” Strongly recommended for English Language Arts teachers seeking a fresh crop of very short stories to share with their students. –Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Perkins-Hazuka, Christine, Tom Hazuka and Mark Budman.  Sudden Flash Youth:  65 Short Short Stories.  New York: Persea Books, 2011.  Print.



Click here to view the table of contents and read “Currents.”  Click here to view the publisher’s lesson plan for “Currents.”

Friday, September 20, 2013

When We Wuz Famous by Greg Takoudes




Rarely does an indie film become novelized by its director, but such is the unusual case with Takoudes’ When We Wuz Famous.  As the novel begins, Vincent, one of six friends in New York City who make up the Kaos Krew, has been shot and killed.  Reignbow, his best friend’s girl, is in an interrogation room in East Harlem with Detective Keating and not making it easy on the detective.  The reader is forced to wonder at why Reignbow is under interrogation after Vincent’s death.  Unexpectedly, however, the story mostly centers on Francisco, Vincent’s best friend and Reign’s boyfriend, who has been recruited out of his neighborhood and into an elite boarding school hours away from the city.   A YA novel for developing urban fiction readers who have already read Street Pharm and Monster, and not yet ready for a common core text exemplar. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber



Takoudes, Greg.  When We Wuz Famous.  New York:  Henry Holt and Company, 2013.

Educators and book club facilitators may want to check out the publisher's discussion guide here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bad Boy by Dream Jordan



Kate is at a new group home where she has to once again prove to her housemates that she is not someone they can walk all over.  But after coming so far, and learning that not every conflict should be resolved with a fist fight, Kate wants to navigate the situation a little differently.  Unfortunately her new housemates are not giving her much of a choice.  Feeling isolated and lonely, Kate finds refuge in Percy; he’s hot, he’s cool and has plenty of money.  But Percy isn’t all like he seems.  Kate soon finds herself in a spiraling-out-of-control abusive relationship.  Bad Boy by Dream Jordan talks about a  mature topic and, through Kate, sends a very powerful message, “Nobody is immune from abuse.  Tough girls, rich girls, white girls, black girls… even grown women get abused… anybody can fall prey.”

Although this book may be accessible to middle school readers, the topic seems better suited for a teen audience. The pacing of the book is a little fast but it is a great way to engage teens in thinking and talking about dating violence. This book would be strengthened by a resource list for teens seeking more information in dealing with abusive relationships. Students who enjoyed Hot Girl, Such a Pretty Girl and nearly anything by Ni-Ni Simone should enjoy Bad Boy.--Claudio Leon


Jordan, Dream.  Bad Boy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012. Print

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stories from Latin America by Genevieve Barlow



This slim bilingual volume of sixteen folktales and legends spans thousands of years and ten countries.  From Columbia’s “Poor Fool!” - the story of haughty Don Ramiro’s amusing comeuppance - to Venezuela’s “The Empty Boat” - the tale of a man’s moral transformation - each story is written simply and elegantly, in language accessible to second language learners and developing readers.  The Spanish and English versions are presented side by side for easy back and forth comprehension checks and back matter includes thorough translated vocabulary lists.  Stories from Latin America also includes a map of Latin America and directions to accessing free MP3 audio recordings of four selected stories in Spanish. --Regan Schwartz

Barlow, Genevieve. Stories from Latin America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?: The Art of Making Zines and Minicomics, by Mark Todd and Esther Watson Pearl




Looking for a unique and engaging way for your students to publish their work?  Offering a brief history of zines as well as step-by-step how-to instructions, Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine? is the perfect volume for teachers interested in leading a zine-making project.  The entire zine-making process is broken down into easily digestible bites, with great potential for application to individual lesson plans.  From brainstorming a topic to write about to distribution methods, each section serves as an example of zine design and layout.  Noteworthy are the photocopier tricks and tips for getting a wow factor from a low budget production method.--Anne Lotito Schuh


Todd, Mark, and Esther Watson Pearl. Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?: The Art of Making Zines and Minicomics. Boston: Graphia, 2006. Print.



Monday, September 16, 2013

The 411 on Bullying, Gangs, Drugs and Jail: The Formula for Staying in School and Out of Jail by Warden Howard Robertson



This slim volume may be worth taking extra steps to get into the hands of young men facing a hard road when early death or a lifetime of incarceration look like the inevitable possibilities.  Striking a wizened, knowing, tone, retired Warden Robertson has written the missing self-help book for developing readers who are urban tween and teen boys.  Like Williams’ Life in Prison, The 411 seeks to de-mystify and de-glamorize the end results of “selling drugs, banging, gambling and hustling”  and dropping out.  While phrases like “That’s a fact, Jack.” may not immediately endear young readers to the sometimes avuncular narrative, pictures of the inside of jails on Rikers’, along with images of the author and his family in front of fancy cars will draw curious readers to the author’s words.  The images are grainy, and the cover design and layout feel amateurish.  However, the production value lends this book a visible air of street cred.  Between the covers, Howard quickly establishes his own claims to insight and insider status:  20 years of service and leadership on Rikers, an older brother in and out of they system, and another older brother dead of a drug overdose at 16.  Counselors may find the frank discussion of goals, social groups and gangs a useful starting point for group conversations.  Students may just hang on to this book for independent reading. Reading specialists will want to keep several copies on hand.  —Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Robertson, Warden Howard.  The 411 on Bullying, Gangs, Drugs and Jail:  The Formula for Staying in School and Out of Jail.  Denver: Outskirts Press, 2013.  Print.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing by Gary Soto


From the author of The Afterlife and Novio Boy, comes this small book of love poems written in the voices of teens.  The first half of Partly Cloudy is verse from a female perspective, including “Black Books,” about a young woman’s search for Mr. Not a Jerk, and “Obsession” which ends with the line, “Young lady, there’s a picture of a boy at the back of your retinas.”  In the second half, Soto explores young love from the male point of view.  In “Beautiful Trouble” a deacon’s son yearns for a red-lipped, bangle-clad bad girl.  “Driftwood” is a sad lament of rejection that makes poetry out of a frozen river.  The poetry is accessible and captures the vulnerability of eager young hearts, without conjuring up fiery passion or utter heartbreak.  Partly Cloudy is a good introduction to poetry for younger teens and tweens and well-suited to instructional use. --Regan Schwartz

Soto, Gary. Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Print.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Welcome back + a Fabulous List


Welcome back!  

And to those of you who never went away, it’s nice to see you again.  Today is the first day of our students’ new school year and we are excited to tell you about the books we’ve been reading.  Before we get started, though, we’d like to share with you a list we’ve all been waiting for:  Andrea Swenson’s recommended titles for NYC LGBTQ youth and their allies.  Andrea recently shared on our NYC listserv that she created this list in conjunction with a Collaborative Collection Development Grant she received for books related to and for the LGBTQ students and allies in our communities.  In her own words:

My lists have some very specific goals:  they are meant to go in NYC urban public school libraries; they are meant to be appealing to as many students as possible students, GLBTQ or allies; they need to fit a wide range of reading levels; and they need to be easily purchased from a library vendor.  I will be leaving off some award-winners, either to provide diversity of characters, or because I don’t think they’re as appealing as some other books.  I reached out to experts around the country and in New York City for advice & suggestions.  I know that making lists is always challenging, so I don’t expect to please everyone!”  

If you don’t know Andrea, please allow me to tell you that her school library is a true sanctuary for LGBTQ youth; a beacon and model for the rest of us.  Without further ado, here it is!
--Jessica Fenster-Sparber