Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Authors and Artists Series: Patricia McCormick visits Belmont

On Tuesday, December 20th, award-winning author Patricia McCormick visited with two groups of readers inside Belmont’s school library.  The first group, comprised of young men and women residing at Boys Town sites, prepared with their ELA teacher, Ms. Ernyey, by reading I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World.  The second group, comprised of young men residing at two different SCO sites as well as a Martin DePorres site, prepared with their ELA teachers, Ms. Nadel and Mr. Villaronga, by reading Never Fall Down.  Both groups read and discussed the respective texts, both heavily researched by Patricia McCormick, and drafted their own questions to ask the research-oriented author.  

All of us are grateful to Ms. McCormick for her generosity with her time and talent, as well as the beloved titles and enduring understandings she has made possible through her writing, and to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for generously purchasing copies of both books for all of the participating students, faculty, and staff. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Monday, December 19, 2016

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick

Many students here at Passages have heard of Malala Yousafzai, but for those who have not, a quick mention of the fact that she was shot at close range and that a bullet entered her head and travelled down under her skin to her shoulder quickly grabs their attention.  Patricia McCormick, with whom readers may be familiar from her works of fiction based on in-depth research and lengthy interviews on the Cambodian genocide, sex slavery, self-harm, and war, has collaborated with the Nobel Peace Prize winning teenager to provide younger readers with access to Malala’s story and the context in which it unfolded: life in Pakistan’s Swat valley before the 2007 earthquake that set the stage for the Taliban to come to power and eventually issue an edict in 2009 that no girls were permitted to go to school.  

Readers may be inspired by Malala’s courageous activism while beginning to develop schema for understanding Sunni Islam and its conflict with Islamic jihadists, life in rural and urban Pakistan, and Pashtun culture.  This edition contains two sections of reproductions of color photographs which help readers visualize the Swat valley, public floggings, Malala’s everyday life, and her travels as an activist and humanitarian. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Yousafzai, Malala with Patricia McCormick.  I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World.  New York: Hachette, 2016.  Print.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Never Fall Down: A Novel by Patricia McCormick

Arn knows his aunt cannot afford to send him and his five siblings to school as well as feed and clothe them, so he has dropped out of his elementary school to sell ice cream on the street when one day the teenage soldiers of the Khmer Rouge roll into town and order everyone to follow them into the countryside.  What follows is a tautly paced first-person narration of the Cambodian genocide from the perspective of an eleven-year-old character whose story, while presented as a novel, is based on the true tale of Arn Chorn-Pond.  A powerful tale on its own, in McCormick’s expert hands, Chorn-Pond’s story has been transformed into brilliant YA literature.  Students living in detained settings may not find this book immediately relatable because the narrator’s voice belies his relationship to English as a secondary language. Intrepid readers (or those with the support of a teacher) will be rewarded by McCormick’s exploration of how adults in powerful positions manipulate young people to achieve their goals.  While Post-traumatic stress disorder is not named, the text’s empathetic portrayal of a teenager surviving years of trauma and opening a new chapter in his life are realistic and ultimately heartening.  Recommended for more experienced high-school-aged readers who have enjoyed The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Sold.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

McCormick, Patricia.  Never Fall Down.  New York: Balzer + Bray, 2012.

The publisher has made a brief teaching guide available here.  A wonderful interview with the author is available on her website here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Parent-teacher Conferences + Public Library Partners

Last night Passages Academy finished hosting our first round of this year’s parent-teacher conferences.  We were joined by our public librarian colleagues at several of our sites who came out to provide families and staff with a connection to New York City’s public libraries... and swag.  Thank you for joining us Erleen Harris (Brooklyn Public Library, pictured above) at Belmont and Katie Fernandez (New York Public Library) at Bronx Hope!  We gave away dozens of picture books to families as part of our family literacy initiative, funded by Literacy for Incarcerated Teens

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War by Jessica Dee Humphreys & Michel Chikwanine Illustrated by Claudia Davila

Michel was a fierce-spirited five-year-old when he disobeyed his parents to play soccer with his best friend one day after school in his neighborhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Snatched by rebels, tortured and forced to kill his best friend, Michel recounts his harrowing experiences in a way that younger readers can understand, leaving out the graphic details while showing the story via sequential art.  This moving, true story is followed with excellent backmatter, all of which address the older elementary reader as a future changemaker.  Notably, the authors connect Michel’s unique story to the estimated 250,000 child soldiers serving in armed forces and rebel groups around the world without omitting the fact that sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds may join the armed forces in some countries (with parental permission) and the fact that “children in these countries are sometimes recruited into armed gangs and other violent criminal groups.” (43)  Recommended for mature younger readers and those who do not shy away from serious topics.  I would recommend this to a student demanding a read like Yummy, though the first few pages, which outline the cultural and geographical context for the reader, may require a bit of scaffolding for less-experienced readers.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Humphreys, Jessica Dee and Michel Chikwanine.  Child Soldiers:  When Boys and Girls are Used in War.  Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2015.  Print.

Click here for the teacher’s guide or discussion guide on the publisher’s website.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Gabe is so close to high school graduation and the rest of his life as a trans teen.  While he is trying to navigate bathroom decisions, the pitfalls of dating girls, and the adoption of his new name, Gabe, from his birth name, Elizabeth, he encounters a vicious pair of bullies who literally threaten his life.  Feeling unsupported by the police, Gabe has to choose which risks to take and when to stand up for himself--choices many teen readers will be able to relate to.  While this story is set in Minnesota and depicts the lives of middle-class caucasian teens, urban high school readers who can get past those differences will be richly rewarded for taking a walk in Gabe’s shoes as he makes his transition.  Cronn-Mills closes the book with a six-page narrative primer on the transgender umbrella and web resources for LGBTQ teens and their teachers, parents and supporters.  Recommended for more experienced teen readers. --Jesssica Fenster-Sparber

Cronn-Mills, Kirstin.  Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.  Woodbury: Flux, 2012.  Print.

Click here for a Beautiful Music for Ugly Children web-based instructional unit complete with common core standards, discussion questions, and links.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Sam Ita

While this gorgeous pop-up makes a valiant attempt to condense the glory of Verne’s sci-fi classic in sixteen pages, you can probably guess from the premise that this beautiful volume from Sterling does not make for an adequate story.  What it does accomplish, often stunningly, is to bring some of the story’s most famous moments to life.  Several spreads succeed spectacularly and the entire book is marked by Ita’s genius at paper engineering and his creative efforts with the sequential art format offer humor and a visual perspective which serve as a unique supplement to other print versions of this same story. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Ita, Sam.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  New York: Sterling, 2008.  Print.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward

Twins Joshua and Christophe have been raised by their grandmother after their father abandons them for his drug addiction and their mother leaves them for life in Atlanta.  Having just graduated from high school, Joshua lands a job as a dock worker, but Christophe has no luck finding employment.  Set in rural Mississippi in the hot weeks after graduation, tensions rise between the two as Christopher turns to selling drugs and Joshua spends more time with his girlfriend.  The novel simmers with slow tension, leading to a dramatic climax that strikes quickly, much like a sweltering summer day that breaks open into relief with a sudden lightning storm.  Recommended for sophisticated readers attuned to metaphor.--Anne Lotito-Schuh

Ward, Jesmyn. Where the Line Bleeds. Chicago: Agate, 2008.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea original by Jules Verne, retold by Pauline Francis

In 48 pages, Francis summarizes Verne’s famous 19th century science fiction novel, which begins in Brooklyn in 1867.  There have been reports of a sea monster in the Pacific Ocean and the United States government is assembling a team to investigate.  Monsieur Arronax, a french scientist and the narrator of the story, receives a letter inviting him to join the team and accepts the invitation, thus beginning the adventure ahead.  This British edition condenses the original novel into ten spare chapters and includes an introduction, a five page glossary, and two exercises titled “Test Yourself” but read like pop quizzes intended for a teacher to assign.  This slim volume has a decent enough cover, but the digital color illustrations sprinkled through the text leave much to be desired.  Still, teachers wanting a basic introduction to the text for developing adolescent readers may well find this edition among the most useful for building schema and providing scaffolding  for the classic. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Francis, Pauline.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  London: Evans Brothers Limited, 2010.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Football: The Math of the Game by Shane Frederick

It's back to school and back to football! Why not get the best of both worlds as the season kicks off? Football: The Math of the Game shows students the basic rules of the game while demonstrating that this great American pastime is all about the math. How big is the football field? How many degrees does the running back turn on a slant route? Aside from learning about mathematical concepts and how they connect to the game of football, the book also mentions statistics of standout players and explains, through the use of mathematics, how such statistics contribute to their teams’ successes and failures. Football: The Math of the Game is a great way to get students thinking beyond the classroom and how a subject area such as math can be applied to more than just number problems. The book is accessible to students reading at a 5th grade level and above. It contains a small glossary with both math and football vocabulary.--Claudio Leon

Frederick, Shane. Football: The Math of the Game. Mankato: Capstone Press, 2012. Print.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This Newberry Honor and Coretta Scott King Award winning memoir is the story of author Jacqueline Woodson’s own childhood, growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the 1960s and 70s.  Told in free verse, close attention is paid to both the minute details and character-shaping events that make up a childhood.  The Civil Rights Movement lays the backdrop for Woodson’s tale of how family, religion, and school shaped her idea of home and sense of personal identity.  Highly recommended for middle grade fans of free verse and realistic fiction.  --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Friday, September 30, 2016

100 Suns by Michael Light

How many times did the United States test atomic bombs?  Where did they test them?  What did the explosions look like?  As Passages’ Living Environment curriculum gets underway and students consider the atom, librarians may supplement instruction with this stunning and disturbing pictorial documenting the testing of nuclear bombs first on the mainland and subsequently on unlucky islands.  Author Michael Light keeps the text to a bare minimum for much of the book, allowing the reader’s curiosity to be piqued and then extended as the images of explosions pile up.  The backmatter reveals Light’s well-researched captions as well as a powerfully succinct timeline of the progression of the development of atomic bombs and key events of World War II.  Notes on stockpiling highlight the escalation of the arms race between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R.  Struggling readers will appreciate the chance to access the text via the reading of images, and more sophisticated readers may enjoy the initial mystery of the buried captions and will find much to chew on once the backmatter is uncovered. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Light, Michael.  100 Suns.  New York: Knopf, 2003.  Print.

Click here for an interview with Michael Light on 100 Suns which was published in afterimage's July/August 2005 issue.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Members Only: Secret Societies, Sects, and Cults -- Exposed! By Julie Tibbot

What are they hiding?  So begins this tantalizing non-fiction title, preparing the reader to delve into the secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) histories of twenty-two groups following alphabetic order and concluding with the Thugees, which, I was fascinated to learn, is with whom the word “thug” originates.  Each chapter follows a template which provides the date or period in which the group originated, their current status, and summarizes in one sentence the group’s exclusivity, secrecy, threat, and quirkiness.  
After this half-page profile in a text box, Tibbott goes on to introduce the reader to the history and background of the group, followed by a section on how to get in and what reportedly goes on within the group.  Interspersed throughout the text are photographs, symbol illustrations, and relevant features on topics.  Examples include Zora Neale Hurston’s account of meeting Felicia Felix-Mentor (an allegedly zombified woman) following the chapter on the Bizango (founded in Haiti in the 18th century), and a list of big name Masons ( including contemporary public figures Jesse Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal along with historical personages like Oscar Wilde and George Washington).  Perfect for older adolescent readers requesting information on the Illuminati (see page 89), the biggest problem with this book is that unsurprisingly, the author chose not to cite her sources. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Tibbott, Julie.  Members Only: Secret Societies, Sects and Cults--Exposed!  San Francisco: Zest Books, 2014.  Print.

Monday, September 19, 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

Thirteen-year-old Ben is convinced nothing in life is forever.  It’s hard to blame him after having spent so much time in foster care and with a revolving door of good and bad people coming in and out of his life.  A fateful encounter with a little dog named Flip brings new friends into his world, and the courageous Rainbow Girl battling cancer, her librarian mom, and magician dad offer him a glimpse of forever.  But can he hold on to it?  A simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking story of friendship, family, and lasting moments.  This middle grade novel set in Brooklyn will appeal to fans of realistic fiction, especially if sci-fi also holds a special place in their hearts.  Another fantastic offering from frequent Passages Academy Libraries Visiting Author Paul Griffin.   --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Griffin, Paul. When Friendship Followed Me Home. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016. Print.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Be Back Soon

Thanks for reading! 

We'll be on hiatus for the next couple of months and we'll be back with more reviews in September.  We wish you a summer full of great reads.

The What's Good? Crew

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Guinness World Records 2016 Gamer’s Edition by Guinness World Records Limited

Ever wanted to know how much money you could earn by winning a Call of Duty Tournament? $125,000. How about the best-selling independently made game? Minecraft, which has sold over 60 million copies and made a total of $318.5 million dollars. Not bad for a game that originally only cost $820 to make. But it’s not all numbers, the Guinness World Records 2016 Gamer’s Edition contains a deluge of interesting information about video games, all of which is presented in the form of infographics and organized alphabetically by game title. Pages are sprinkled with tips and tricks, sidebars about particular records, and most of all filled with pictures from the games mentioned. This volume also explains to readers how to go about breaking a record and making it into the book. Record breakers and video game players alike should enjoy looking through all the information this book has to offer.--Claudio Leon

Guinness World Records Limited, and Bastian Heinlein. Guinness World Records 2016 Gamer's Edition. Hamburg: Hoffmann Und Campe, 2015. Print.

The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

If there is ever a time when one feels as though they are on an island unto themselves and simultaneously on center stage with Broadway lights highlighting all of their perceived flaws, it would be the middle school years. A time when you feel so lonely, but are surrounded by so many people, people whose eyes and words singe deeply. Sharon Flake does an impeccable job portraying this scenario from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl, Maleeka Madison-the-third [sic], a bright student whose past and low self-esteem lingers in her everyday choices. It is a new, tough teacher, Miss Saunders, who is always in Maleeka's business and whose own imperfections act as a lens for her in learning to love the skin she's in. With this lesson, Maleeka takes control and is finally able to break free from the hold of the most popular girl in the grade, Char. With vocabulary that is accessible to a wide range of readers, I highly recommend this title to middle and high school girls.--Allison Trevaskis

Flake,  Sharon G. The Skin I’m In. New York: Jump at the Sun Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1998.  Print.

Click here for the Anti-Defamation League’s discussion guide and resource links pertaining to The Skin I’m In.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Laughing at my Nightmare by Shane Burca

Unable to use his limbs, Shane Burcaw has spent the better part of his lifetime making friends, jokes, and sly observations from his wheelchair.  Burcaw decided to put his refreshing humor to good use in this memoir chronicling his challenges and triumphs from the first twenty years of his life.  Readers will empathize and laugh with Shane as he gets through school and navigates the social waters of college with lots of cursing and jokes along the way.  Highly recommended to anyone wishing to walk (or roll) a mile in someone else’s shoes.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Burcaw, Shane.  Laughing at My Nightmare.  New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2014.  Print.

Friday, June 10, 2016

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Imagine a future in which everything is the same as it is now, except a new breakthrough in brain science has made it possible for specially trained surgeons to erase memories.  The procedure is in high demand, and teens can’t opt in without a parent’s signature and a bunch of money.  What would you do if you were Aaron--sixteen years old and unable to shake the memory of finding your father dead from suicide?  Set in NYCHA projects in the Bronx, this novel’s protagonist has a strong and unique voice and comes across as sensitive and seemingly self-aware.  A supporting cast of familiar, less-developed characters as Aaron’s family and friends comes together to tackle heavy themes of identity, memory, family, love, and loss with several surprising twists and some unusual chronology.  Highly recommended for more sophisticated readers ready to move beyond titles like How it Went Down and I Hunt Killers, and a must-read for fans of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Silvera, Adam.  More Happy Than Not.  New York: Soho Press, 2015. Print.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I, Witness by Norah McClintock, Illustrated by Mike Deas

When Boone and Robbie witness the murder of a man the decision to keep their mouths shut is simple. But when Robbie is then murdered, Boone is sent into a spiral of fear. If this weren’t already challenging enough for Boone to handle, the family of his murdered friend believes he knows who the murderer is and want Boone to come forward. Boone must decide to either put his life at risk or continue suffering in silence. Similar to Yummy and Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm, I, Witness is a black and white graphic novel. It uses a gritty art style to convey the challenges of growing up surrounded by violence and having to make tough choices in order to stay alive. I Witness does a great job at sucking the reader in within the first chapter. The story is well paced and keeps readers guessing up until the last page. Students looking for a graphic novel a bit longer than Yummy will be sure to pick this one up.--Claudio A. Leon
McClintock, Norah & Deas, Mike. I, Witness. Washington: Orca Book Publishers, 2012. Print.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Professional Text Review I Hope I Don’t See You Tomorrow: A Phenomenological Ethnography of the Passages Academy School Program by Dr. Lee Gabay

Co-Editors note: Here at WG? we focus almost exclusively on the texts and leaders who serve our students, but sometimes you have to break your own rules and Dr. Lee Gabay’s new title warrants a deviation from our own bounds and traditions.  Perhaps more will follow.
Perfectly-sized for the busy teacher, administrator, or curious outsider, Dr. Gabay has written the first book that combines both a researcher’s questions and insider insight into Passages Academy.  Written over the course of a decade, and just published a few months ago, I Hope I Don’t See You Tomorrow furnishes the reader with a literature review that provides meaningful context situating the work of Passages Academy.  Dr. Gabay has elected to keep his voice and perspective present as someone who worked at Passages for many years, and his book reports on and analyzes mostly anonymous interviews he conducted with colleagues.  For administrators and policymakers whose work dovetails with incarcerated and detained youth and whom have never taught in a Passages classroom, this book is essential reading.  For students of criminology and criminal justice, as well as judges and the slew of social agencies and arts agencies who endeavor to concern themselves with the welfare of court-involved youth, and for any educator who ever wondered if they might have something to contribute in a detention setting, this book is highly recommended.  While it is an academic work, Gabay intends his writing to be accessible and straightforward.  Six chapters encompass the researcher and text’s contextualization, the methodology used, an overview of the history of education and juvenile justice, an exploration of the students’ experience, and the results of Gabay’s interviews with colleagues.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Gabay, Lee A.  I Hope I Don’t See You Tomorrow: A Phenomenological Ethnography of the Passages Academy School Program.  The Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2016.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Pregnant and desperately poor, fifteen-year-old Esch lives with her two older brothers, high school basketball star Randall and pitbull-raising Skeetah, her baby brother Junior, and her widowed, underemployed, and alcoholic father in rural Louisiana.  Set during the week before Hurricane Katrina descends, Salvage the Bones heart-wrenchingly depicts Esch’s scorching love for her brother’s friend, Skeetah’s Greek tragedy-like devotion to his pitbull and her litter of puppies, Randall’s hopes of attending basketball camp where he’s sure to be noticed by college scouts, Junior’s search for a connection to the mother who died giving birth to him, and their father’s futile attempts to prepare for the unimaginable.  Themes of love, family, friendship, loyalty, and betrayal are thick throughout this many-layered story.  A modern classic for a strong reader.  --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage the Bones. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. Print.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Programming Spotlight: Poetry Performance at BAM

Students residing at the Blum group home attended Poetry 2016: Past Is Present, a performance that opened on Thursday and will continue at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fishman Space through next week.  Attendees were welcomed by DJ Reborn, warmed up with Baba Isreal, and then took in performance poetry from Climbing PoeTree, Liza Jessie Peterson, Flaco Navaja and Jennifer Cendana Armas, as well as a couple of impressive peers giving debut readings.  Poems were accompanied by beatboxing, dancing, and live music, as well as moving projections, making meaning on a variety of levels and adding to the complexity of the art.  The performance was followed by a Q & A onstage with all of the participants and everyone seemed to enjoy this foray into a new space.  Many thanks to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for providing the critical funding to purchase tickets, and to Ms. Nadel, Ms. DeLara, Ms. Aiyana, Ms. Sandra, Blum Staff, and Mr. Watters and Mr. Moe at ACS for working as a team to make this trip a success.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse

Teachers looking for a narrative poem to illustrate the genre, as well as poetry lovers searching for a read-aloud poem to serve as an invitation to a story may wish consider this contemporary issue of Thayer’s classic.  I shared Casey this week at the commencement of baseball season and its confluence with the start of National Poetry Month.  This particular version initially grabbed students’ attention with its urban illustrations, though the poem itself seduces the reader using the traditional elements of poetry.  The poem’s pacing and suspense are enhanced by this publication’s layout.  This selection proved perfect for a shared reading and librarians will want to have multiple copies on hand so that students eager to study the images can do so without interrupting the rhythm and rhymes of the poem as it builds the momentum to its final anti-climax, leaving students hankering for more.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Kids Can Press provides a pdf containing lesson plan ideas on their website.  Click here for the website and then scroll down for the pdf labeled “teaching.”

Thayer, Ernest L. Casey at the Bat.  Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2010.  Print.

Friday, April 1, 2016

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay, Illustrated by Daniel Lafrance

This is the story of a young African teen whose boarding school is attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Koni. The events that follow Jacob are tragic as the LRA implements their ruthless tactics in order to force Jacob and his fellow classmates into becoming part of the LRA. In order to survive his captors, Jacob and three other classmates swear to protect each other as family. War Brothers touches on a multitude of topics from child soldiers to the difficulties of re-entering society after such traumatic events. However, the book does not explore either topic in depth.  This is both good and bad as it can be used as a tool to introduce students to such topics but further resources would be needed to explore them more deeply. The graphics contain just enough text to get the story across, making it accessible to students at a lower middle school reading level. Like any good graphic novel, the story is well paced and told through a well balanced use of text bubbles and graphic panels. Students who enjoyed Dogs Of War should enjoy reading War Brothers.--Claudio Leon

McKay, Sharon E., and Daniel Lafrance, Illustrator. War Brothers: The Graphic Novel. New York: Annick Press, 2013. Print.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Apollo by George O’Connor

In sixty-six pages of glorious color George O’Connor provides the eighth installment in his beloved Olympians series.  O’Connor uses the Mousai, more popularly known as the Muses, to tell seven tales of Greek god Apollo.  All eight Olympians volumes will be of great interest to fans of mythology, comics, and especially to teachers of young people following common core standards. Notably, this series offers layers of text complexity that are not commonly accessible to students who gravitate toward slimmer books.  O’Connor and his publisher have intelligently included generous backmatter making these books a great selection for educators: an author’s note, text notes, illustrated profiles of mythological characters, questions for discussion, and a bibliography are rounded off with a short list of suggested further reading.  My favorite part of this series, however, is the family tree on the inside of the front cover of each volume, providing a handy reference to the relational and familial connections that function as threads in the complex tapestry of Greek mythology. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Monday, March 28, 2016

Words Unlocked Guest Blog Post

With National Poetry Month just a few days away, I’m already full with anticipation as teachers across the country prepare to embark on Words Unlocked 2016! I imagine the conversations young people will have with one another, the understandings they will dis-cover, and the connections they will make in places most people will never truly know. Words Unlocked is designed with young people held in secure, locked facilities and their teachers. The Words Unlocked website is packed with free resources including downloadable lesson plans, student handouts, poetry resources, and how-to guides. My favorite resources by far are the Words Unlocked Anthologies. These collections give all who venture in a glimpse into the hearts and minds of our young people held in confinement. 
words unlocked evolve
glimpses into times of change
pause, transformation

Last year’s theme was transformation. Words Unlocked 2015 Focus Poet and Lead Reviewing Artist, Jimmy Santiago Baca, had this to say about the poems he read:

“You hear their lives and feel their faces and you want to sometimes hold them and protect them from the cruelty and injustice in our world, and you can.”

Experiencing poetry, whether through reading or listening, unlocks words once held by others and allows us a doorway into worlds beyond our physical reach. Just this morning I was watching Words Unlocked 2016 Focus Poet and Reviewing Artist, Donté Clark, perform his piece, "Let Me Breathe” imagining the faces of thousands of young people captivated by his words and sharing an experience.

The theme for Words Unlocked 2016 is interconnectedness. We each interact with one another, making understanding impossible if we are simply considered alone. What bold truths will our young people share about being mutually connected—to others, to communities, to systems, to the world? Words Unlocked assures that bold truths permeate facility walls and travel into the consciousness of those of us living our lives on the outside. As Jimmy Baca wrote “ can.” Listen to the words of our young people. How might they move you into action?--Christy Sampson-Kelly

Christy Sampson-Kelly is a tireless advocate for a particularly vulnerable group of young people—those with special needs held in locked juvenile and adult facilities. She is also the author of reMembering Mulatta, a book of poetry that exposes her journey through the lived experience of being neither this nor that as a woman of mixed ancestry. She currently serves as the Director of Practitioner Support at CEEAS, leads Words Unlocked, and provides direct coaching to schools in the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and student engagement.