Friday, January 31, 2014

Bicycles by Nikki Giovanni

I have been inundated with requests for books of love poems.  I am happy to have this slim, enigmatic volume on hand to offer students after they have moved through the more accessible poetry of lyricists such as Alicia Keyes and Tupac Shakur.  Bicycles gets at love and longing from many different angles and in many different ways.  Friendship, family, romantic love, and hero-worship are all here, in one to two page poems in forms ranging from free verse to simple four line stanzas to paragraphs of prose poetry.  There is something for everyone inside, but it may take patience and a bit of guidance to find, especially for less sophisticated readers.  “A Substitute for You,” “Friends and Lovers,” and “Trash Pans” have all proven popular.--Regan Schwartz

Giovanni, Nikki. Bicycles. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009. Print.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hip-Hop Biographies: Drake

Saddleback’s Hip-Hop Biographies series has drawn tremendous student interest since the moment I took the books out of the box. In Drake’s biography, the reader gets to know a little bit about Drake’s childhood in Toronto, where he was raised by his white, Jewish mother. He didn’t have much of a relationship with his father, an African American musician, until he was a teenager, but when they finally started spending time together, they bonded over music. Some readers might be surprised to learn that Drake was an actor on the popular television program Degrassi High before he made it as a singer, and this book clearly explains his trajectory from one role to the next. Also of interest is his relationship with mentor Lil Wayne and a breakdown of some rivalries Drake has had with other musicians.

The font is large and accessible, and students have enjoyed flipping through the pages and looking at the colorful pictures in these slim volumes. Other popular titles in the series are Chris Brown, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne. This series is recommended for independent reading or as a starting point for inquiry work. Additionally, each book contains a table of contents, a glossary and a page of photo credits. --Anja Kennedy

Hip-Hop Biographies: Drake. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback Educational Publishing, 2013. Print.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Come Up: The World Is Mine by Lyah B. LeFlore Illustrated by DL Warfield

Blue is a junior at Silver Spring High School and he believes he is destined to become a hip-hop mogul.  His father, however, expects him to become a lawyer and his best friend, Collin, is in the same boat. Both are friends with Whiteboy, an artist who grew up on the tough streets of Anacostia.  The heart of the plot involves theft of music and the adolescents’ conflict between following in a parent’s footsteps versus forging a new path and identity.  The myriad alternating voices and short chapters provide multiple perspectives and further the building suspense in the second half make this novel a possible bridge for students ready to move beyond Ni-Ni Simone and Kimani Tru series.  English teachers will be disappointed with the editing, but developing readers may appreciate the copious illustrations, white space, and the hip-hop vibe.  While the novel is not as fast-paced as some reluctant readers may require, the ending is suspenseful enough to create a demand for the sequel, Can’t Hold Me Down.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

LeFlore, Lyah B.  The Come Up: The World is Mine.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009.  Print.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bang by Norah McClintock

Quentin knows his best friend JD is bad news.  After all, JD just got back from a boot camp program he was sentenced to after beating up a kid who was talking about his sister, Leah.  But old habits die hard and Quentin has a thing for Leah, so he finds himself running around town and getting into minor trouble with JD until one day the trouble turns major.  A threat, a theft, a gunshot and now a man is dead and Quentin is the prime suspect.  This fast-paced HiLo offering is a compelling read touching on themes of betrayal and accountability.  While it wraps up far too neatly, and the pace of the story offers little room for substantial character growth, reluctant readers looking for action will be well-served. --Regan Schwartz

McClintock, Norah. Bang. Victoria, BC, Canada: Orca Book Publishers, 2007. Print.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Unchained by L.B. Tillit

TJ is already a bully and the neighborhood tough guy when he gets recruited by a gang at the age of thirteen. With drug-addicted and negligent parents at home, TJ has been taking care of himself for a long time; thus, the prospect of having a new “family” is enticing. But before he’s able to get too involved, tragedy strikes at home when his father dies. Against his wishes, he’s whisked away and sent to live in a foster home on the other side of town. Readers may need to pause here and suspend their disbelief because Miss Dixie’s home is one that probably isn’t too familiar to most, a foster home where everyone is kind to one another and all meals take place together around a table. In two years’ time, TJ turns his life around. Then, suddenly, his mother meets the requirements to get him back and he is forced to face the gang again.

While students may be able to relate to the feelings of helplessness that TJ experiences, the book loses momentum in the middle. Students will pick it up because of its strong cover, and it might be a hit with readers of Bluford High. --Anja Kennedy

Tillit, L. B. Unchained. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback Educational Publishing, 2012. Print.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Avengers Vs. X-Men

It’s battle mayhem, when Psyclops and Captain America can’t settle their differences about how to handle the second coming of the Phoenix Force.  In the past this cosmic being wreaked havoc on Earth by inhabiting Psyclops’ deceased wife, Jean Grey.  Believing that their daughter is the Phoenix’s next host, Psyclops has been training Hope for this moment.  That is until the Avengers get word of it and decide to take Hope away from her father and lock her up until they can find a way to completely eradicate the Phoenix Force.  With the entire mutant race and safety of the planet at stake, can both sides find common ground?
Readers who enjoyed Hulk Vs Wolverine or the Runaways will also enjoy Avengers Vs .X-Men.  This volume is not recommended as a starting point for readers new to the Marvel Universe.  In order to fully enjoy the the story, it requires for the reader to have knowledge about past Marvel Universe events and characters.--Claudio Leon

Aaron, Jason, Brian M. Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, John Romita, Olivier Coipel, Adam Kubert, Scott Hanna, Mark Morales, John Dell, and Chris Eliopoulos. A Vs X, Avengers Vs X-Men. New York: Marvel, 2013. Print.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Brooklyn Nets

Two new books about Brooklyn’s own Nets have arrived in Belmont’s library and both are slim volumes with a heavy bent on the Nets’ history.  Wyner focuses more on the team’s current incarnation and will probably appeal more to reluctant readers with its engaging narrative style.  There are some differences in points of view between the two volumes’ authors, so these might make for a useful pairing as teachers lead students into Common Core ELA Informational text standards.  Neither text contains a bibliography, but Frager’s backmatter includes a timeline, index, and glossary.  Both begin with a table of contents and contain a generous helping of pictures throughout their 48 pages.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Frager, Ray.  Brooklyn Nets.  Edina: ABDO Publishing, 2012.  Print.

Wyner, Zach.  On The Hardwood: Brooklyn Nets.  La Jolla: MVP Books, 2014.  Print.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Journey into Mohawk Country by George O’Connor

The journals of a young Dutch barber/surgeon traveling through what is now New York State in the 1630s to inquire with local indigenous communities about why trading at Fort Orange was dwindling may not make thrilling reading for anyone but a colonial history buff.  That was before George O’Connor got his pencils and inks on them.  O’Connor has managed to transform these informative, if inaccessible, primary documents into a dynamic graphic novel.  O’Conner’s comic illustrations bring Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert’s nearly four-hundred-year-old words to life, making them far more understandable and adding a bit of comic relief to the travelogue.   Teachers of Social Studies may find it a useful teaching aid in teaching about the fur economy of colonial North America and early relationships between Native inhabitants and European newcomers. --Regan Schwartz

O’Connor, George. Journey into Mohawk Country. New York: First Second, 2006. Print.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Boy is Mine! by Charmaine White

Written by eighteen-year-old Charmaine White, The Boy is Mine! is chock full of high school relationship drama from an insider’s perspective.  Starring Neisha Thompson, a popular cheerleader who isn’t sure what or who she wants, this fast-paced read centers on a set of intersecting love triangles wreaking havoc in the personal lives of Wilson High’s most popular students.  While English teachers may cringe at the editing in publisher Wahida Clark’s new young adult line, teens looking for juicy drama will be well-served and those interested in writing may find inspiration in the book’s teen author.  Non-graphic sexual situations and occasional drug use recommend this book for high school and up.  --Regan Schwartz

White, Charmaine. The Boy is Mine!. East Orange, NJ: Wahida Clark Presents Publishing Young Adult, 2011. Print.