Friday, February 27, 2015

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Poetry about basketball? About rapping and braids, girls and family drama? The Crossover (the 2015 Newbery Medal Winner) has all this, and more! Written entirely in verse, the book is told from the point of view of Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell. Each chapter is, in reality, a poem through which Josh expresses his love for basketball and his family, but also his anxiety about the way people change and his struggle to make sense of this ever-changing world. This book gives all readers a taste of new and different ways of self-expression, and reminds readers that there are many ways to tell our stories, rap and poetry included! Reading The Crossover is an excellent way to finish celebrating Black History Month with a bang, or a great way to start off your celebration of National Poetry Month in April. --Katrina Ortega

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. New York:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Print

Click here for an educator guide to The Crossover from its publisher.

Katrina Ortega is a Young Adult librarian at the NY Public Library's Hamilton Grange Branch. In the past, Katrina has provided library services to non-traditional communities, including adults and teens experiencing incarceration and homelessness. Katrina is an avid reader of all literature, and has recently become a huge fan of YA books. She loves helping library patrons discover books that might be considered unusual, like graphic novels, comic books and manga, and poetry.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Knockout Games by G. Neri

Erica’s dad leaves her and her mom with the parting gift of an HD video camera.  The two move to a rough part of St. Louis, Missouri, as a result of her parents’ split.  Erica struggles to make new friends, entering her new, racially mixed school in the middle of the year.  Shortly thereafter, her only friend, Destiny, sees Erica using her camera and drags her off to capture what Destiny thinks is just about the most interesting thing going on: middle school boys selecting a weak-looking adult to approach and surprise with a single knockout punch.

Where Neri takes this scenario is dutifully complex.   Booktalking this book today revealed that the knockout game is not unfamiliar to Passages’ students, suggesting that this novel is both timely and needed as Neri mentions in his author’s note.  Longer and more challenging than Caged Warrior, Knockout Games could make a great book club or classroom read as it is realistic and rich with the moral quandaries facing Erica, and broader themes of racial injustice and complexity in our times. More experienced middle school readers and high schoolers may want to read it independently.  Pairs interestingly with How it Went Down and A Separate Peace.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Neri, G.  Knockout Games.  Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Lab, 2014  

Click here to download a sample chapter and for a discussion guide on the author’s website.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Caged Warrior by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

“The first thing I think about when the cage closes is, I hope God forgives me for what I’m about to do.” --Anonymous

And so begins Sitomer’s latest YA novel aimed at the same readers who ate up Homeboyz.  Fortunately, Homeboyz has a great many fans hankering for more.  Unfortunately, readers are in for a bashing read which leaves nothing to the reader’s imagination.  McCutcheon Daniels, the novel’s protagonist, is a brutal underground MMA fighter and an excellent student when he shows up to his sophomore classes.  Functioning as a single parent to his five year old sister, Gemma, and enabler to his abusive father, MD realizes within the first 100 pages that his father is exploiting him.  Readers who don’t shrink from gory descriptions may enjoy the fight scenes and some will undoubtedly appreciate MD’s role as family provider and surrogate parent to his sister.  This reader wishes the book had the editing it deserves; the last few chapters are the tightest and the strongest. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Sitomer, Alan Lawrence.  Caged Warrior.  New York: Hyperion, 2014.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book by Grumpy Cat

We all have those days.  Those days where everything and everyone is horrid and displeasing.  Those days where you just can’t put on a happy face.  Grumpy Cat is having one of those lives and he’s put together this handy book so that you, too, can embrace and nurture your grumpy self.  This slim volume is full of the memes that made Grumpy Cat an internet sensation, along with tips for fostering grumpiness, games and activities, and peeks of Grumpy Cat’s daily life.  This sardonic text has proven popular with a wide variety of readers looking for a humorous diversion and is a great choice for shared reading. --Regan Schwartz

Cat, Grumpy. Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 2013.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph

Jamal Joseph, at 16, was the youngest member of the Panther 21 to be arrested in New York City in 1969 and his memoir, Panther Baby, opens with a gripping scene of Panther weapons training.  Just the thing to draw in readers who may be a bit younger and stand to benefit the most from his look back on his life experiences thus far, including his political participation in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, through his six year bid at Leavenworth and into the present. Joseph displays a rare lighthearted humor, inviting the reader to laugh with him at some of the choices he made as a young man and with hard-won deep insight into some of those choices.  Highly recommended for independent readers interested in history, American history, “real life stories,” and Black history.  Teachers may be interested to know that the author uses adult language to authentically capture voices throughout his tale.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Click here to register to download a free teaching activity on the Panthers' Ten Point Program from the Zinn Education project.

Joseph, Jamal.  Panther Baby.  New York: Algonquin Books, 2012.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Programming Spotlight: Origami

Students at Belmont, Bronx Hope, Crossroads and Horizon gave away their hearts this week -- paper hearts that is. All four of our largest sites offered origami library programs. Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Easy Origami by Mary Meinking

Are you intimidated by origami? Not sure where to begin? Easy Origami is a good place to start. With a short introduction to the craft and the materials needed, a slightly longer section on how to read the folding symbols (complete with clear, color photographs), this book is a very friendly text for beginners. Continuing in the “keep it simple” vein, there are directions for ten easy projects -- each explained by step-by-step instructions and helpfully illustrated with photographs and a picture of the completed work. At Passages, we’ve often used the heart as our go-to beginning origami project for programs around Valentine’s Day. Other student favorites include the paper cup, the spinning top and the fortune teller. --Anja Kennedy

Meinking, Mary. Easy Origami. Mankato, Minnesota: Capstone Press, 2009. Print.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Frederick Douglass: Rising Up From Slavery by Frances. E. Ruffin

If success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome, as Booker T. Washington said, then Frederick Douglass may be counted as one of the most successful humans who has ever lived.  That he survived, escaped, and outlived American slavery is remarkable, but overcoming these obstacles was only the beginning of what Douglass would go on to do for the rest of the world as a tireless advocate for freedom and equality.  

Ruffin’s thirteen accessible chapters of narrative non-fiction nicely summarize a complex and long life, supplementing Douglass’ accomplishments with one-page features of other luminous figures from history: Nat Turner, William Lloyd Garrison, Benjamin Banneker, Ida B. Wells; as well as some less well-known like John B. Russwurm and Robert Smalls.  Starting off with a timeline, and ending with a glossary, bibliography, photo credits and an index, this book is perfect for curricular explorations of non-fiction, African American history, and interdisciplinary studies of slavery, human rights, and the Civil War.  A perfect companion to the film Lincoln and a schema-building prelude to this year’s award-winning film Selma.  Student readers of biographies who have already enjoyed volumes on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. may enjoy reading this book independently. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Ruffin, Frances E.  Frederick Douglass: Rising Up from Slavery.  New York: Sterling, 2008.

For the Library of Congress' rich collection of documents relating to Frederick Douglass, click here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Slavery and the Making of America by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton

I had the opportunity to read Slavery and the Making of America. This is an explicit account of the slave trade from the late 1400s to the 1960s, and it brings the horrors of that era to life. This book’s topic is a part of American history that all people, young and old, of all races should take the time to read. Slavery and the Making of America should be integrated into Global History for all ages in different stages. From Nat Turner's rebellion to the Civil War, this book made me reflect on what African Americans endured over a 400 plus year time span. I recommend this book. Such a great read. --Andre Saintilien Jr.

PBS has produced a television series which this book is a companion to.  Click here for a timeline of key events in the history of slavery.  Click here for additional print and electronic resources on slavery, including the WPA texts that chronicle the experiences of people who survived slavery and shared their remembrances.  Click here for related lesson plans.

Andre Saintilien Jr. works with youth placed in group home detention as a youth counselor.  He loves to read and is particularly fond of  non-fiction books  that are both instructive and focused on a single topic. He enjoys writing music in his free time.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

What’s in a name? A neighborhood? A brother? A block?  These questions loom large for two young men, both named Wes Moore, born less than a year apart and raised in similar Baltimore neighborhoods.  Both fatherless (one through medical tragedy and one through the tragedy of abandonment), both raised by single mothers in tough circumstances, both eager to prove themselves, and both called to the streets - one is now serving a life sentence for murder and one is a Rhodes scholar.  That scholar set out to find out how and why their paths diverged so wildly - the result is part memoir and part journalistic inquiry.  The Other Wes Moore tells both of their stories chronologically from birth in three large acts, in vivid detail.  Readers looking for true-life stories about street life and the violence encountered there may find what they seek in The Other Wes Moore, though the action is tempered by introspection and the sophisticated language does not evoke the action-packed street books students may be craving. However, the book is practically tailor-made for book groups with backmatter that includes a reader’s guide, discussion questions, a hefty resource guide, and an afterword by Tavis Smiley. --Regan Schwartz

Moore, Wes. The Other Wes Moore. New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2010. Print.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens by Spencer Johnson

Part storytelling, part self help- Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens tells two tales which emphasize the same goal, dealing with change. The book is divided into three parts. It begins with the story of a group of high school students coping with some big changes at their school. One of the students, Chris, seems to be handling the situation better than the rest, so the other students ask Chris for his secret. This leads to the second part of the book, where Chris tells his friends the Who Moved My Cheese? story. In the last section of the book, Chris and his friends reflect on the story.

The book is a guide to getting students, as a class or independently, to look at change and how they handle it. It gives advice on how to become better at noticing the signs that change is on the horizon and adapting to it. The story is simple, yet if explored, can lead to deeper conversations about personality and how we react to situations we don’t necessarily have control over. A concise summary can be found every few pages in the telling of the Who Moved My Cheese? story. These summaries are helpful scaffolds for students reading independently. While the book delivers an obvious message, students may get much more out of the text with some guidance from a caring adult. I would recommend Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens to any teen who is looking for self help books, is dealing with big changes in their life, or has a difficult time dealing with issues that they have very little control over. --Claudio Leon

Johnson, Spencer. Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002. Print.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Escape to Freedom: A Play About Young Frederick Douglass by Ossie Davis

An impactful play in eighty-eight pages and five scenes, Escape to Freedom dramatizes the incredible life of Frederick Douglass.  Beginning with his childhood and ending with his escape from slavery in 1838, this short text focuses primarily on Douglass’ boyhood.  Written in the seventies and set in what feels like the distant past, students are not likely to pick this up on their own.  ELA teachers, however, may be interested in acquiring multiple copies of this affordable text for use with their middle school students.  As is often the case with plays, it takes a team to make it come to life.  Playwright Ossie Davis succinctly captures the power of reading in a world where it is forbidden to some. Social Studies teachers may appreciate the depiction of American slavery in the south in the 1800s.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Davis, Ossie.  Escape to Freedom: A play about young Frederick Douglass.  New York: Scholastic, 1976.