Friday, January 29, 2016

Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

For readers who like their anatomy lessons with a whole lot of kawaii and a little bit of humor on the side, Wicks has crafted a new hit.  In eleven chapters a humorous skeleton narrates a guided theatrical tour of the skeletal, muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, excretory, endocrine, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems, and follows all of that up with an explanation of how our five senses work.  A wonderful text for health and physical education instruction, especially teachers seeking to create and build body schema among students who don’t lean toward textbooks, this text is also an interesting example of a hybrid text for ELA teachers introducing non-fiction.  Human Body Theater includes a table of contents, a glossary, a bibliography, and recommended reading.  Slick production values with gorgeous full-color pages make this title appealing to younger readers as well as its intended middle school audience. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Wicks, Maris.  Human Body Theater: A Non-fiction Revue.  New York: First Second, 2015.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Untwine: a Novel by Edwidge Danticat

Living in Miami, identical, Haitian-American twins Giselle and Isabelle Boyer have distinct interests and personalities. But underlying their individualities are two souls entwined.  When the family suffers a devastating car accident, Isabelle is killed and Giselle struggles as she feels herself untwine from Isabelle.  Giselle recognizes that she is a living physical reminder of the girl Isabelle was and will continue to grow into the woman Isabelle would have looked like.  Old relationships transform into something different in this new reality, as does Giselle’s own perception of herself.  A good read for older teen readers seeking a bit of introspection. --Anne Lotito-Schuh

Danticat, Edwidge. Untwine: a Novel. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015. Print.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Between Me and the World by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Is this relatively small, relatively short book going to appeal to Passages’ students?

Addressed to Coates' fifteen-year old son, which Tressie McMillam Cottom discusses as a literary device, this book is alternatingly approachable and impenetrable for less sophisticated readers thanks to its uneven, complex structure.  Teens will be interested in the man who talks about “people who think they are white” and takes on America’s history of brutality toward African Americans, but they’ll lose interest during long passages about Coates’ time at an elite historically black college and they’ll question a man who says he knows the streets, but whose father was a university librarian.  Moreover, for students who have not known their fathers, the whole conceit of a man addressing his son in a professorial tone may be alienating.  

This book definitely qualifies as a non-fiction text class read and a solid addition to a classroom library, but you will have to have read and process it first yourself, and that will take longer than the narrowness of the spine might intimate.  I highly recommend this book to educators for personal independent reading.  I expect you will find the sections that will speak most clearly to the students you work with, you’ll excerpt them, and then you can facilitate the meaningful conversations many are aching to have around Coates’ discoveries and philosophies that speak most profoundly to our learners. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

An excerpt of the text may be found here.
Discussion questions by Alexis Elafros at the University of Central Florida can be found here.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi.  Between the World and Me.  New York: Random House, 2015. Print.

Friday, January 22, 2016

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Can there be genuine love and affection between foster parents and the children they are caring for?  In One for the Murphys, Lynda Mullaly Hunt explores this type of relationship in a very unique way. Twelve-year-old Carley is taken to the Murphys where she will be living as a foster child while her only known relative, her mother, is in the hospital.  Her social worker, Mrs. MacAvoy, assures her that she will be with an excellent family, but Carley does not believe her and expects the worst. She tries to connect to the Murphys’ way of living and as she adapts she begins to wonder what it would be like to live with this family permanently.  This book is an excellent read for anyone who has ever been in foster care or is considering caring for children in foster care.  Many of the students at Passages will find this story interesting and will be able to connect with Carley.  This book can also be used for a read-aloud.  It has many discussion points that teachers can use. --Elaine Roberts

Hunt, Lynda Mullaly. One For The Murphys. New York: Puffin Books, 2012. Print.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Heroes of Olympus Series by Rick Riordan

Picking up where the Percy Jackson series leaves off, Rick Riordan's Lost Hero series bring in the Roman side of mythology.  According to the Oracles (Greek) and Auguries (Roman), the gods decreed that the demi-gods must never know there are both Roman and Greek demi-gods in the world, and so they have lived in ignorance of each other.  When the Prophecy of Seven brings them together to save Olympus from Gaea, Mother Earth, history comes to light.  Jason, son of Jupiter, teams up with Percy, five other Greek and Roman demi-gods,  and a pugnacious satyr chaperone to cross the Atlantic and take the fight back to Rome, where it began.  It will be the most perilous quest yet.  This battle will either save Olympus, or doom it. --Julie Weber

Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2010. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book One).
Riordan, Rick. The Son of Neptune. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2013. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book Two).
Riordan, Rick. The Mark of Athena. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2014. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book Three).
Riordan, Rick. The House of Hades. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2015. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book Four).
Riordan, Rick. The Blood of Olympus. New York: Disney-Hyperion Books, 2014. Print. Heroes of Olympus (Book Five).

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dime by E.R. Frank

Dime has nowhere to go on a bitterly cold day when a local prostitute offers her a warm and seemingly safe haven.  Feeling she has little choice, Dime is taken in by a pimp and made to feel loved, special, and like part of the family.  Playing with literary devices like personification, Dime narrates her story by imagining the voices of characters like Greed and Sex.  Older teens looking for gritty, urban, realistic fiction will read this suspenseful tale with interest.  Frank succeeds in creating complex characters readers will empathize with and painting a nuanced, disturbing portrait of a pimp who has mastered the psychology of manipulation in order to minimize his need to use drugs and physical violence to control the young women and children he sexually exploits. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Click here for a discussion guide from the publisher.
Frank, E. R.  Dime.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015.  Print.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Biddy’s grandmother does not want to take care of her now that the state will no longer send support checks.  Quincy’s last foster family has moved away.  The two classmates are now legally able to live independently and they have graduated from high school.  Where will they live?  How will they navigate life?  And can they get along?  Written in a vernacular much like Sapphire’s Push, and alternating between Biddy’s and Quincy’s first person perspectives, Girls Like Us offers readers two engaging voices and two different viewpoints of intellectually disabled characters. I recommend this title for more sophisticated readers who have enjoyed Push, and for girls’ book clubs.  This volume is likely to engender compassion for differently-abled peers while it explores themes of victimhood, survival, friendship, cooperation, and self-acceptance. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Unleashing Readers offers some discussion questions on their blog here.

Giles, Gail.  Girls Like Us.  Berryville: Candlewick Press, 2014.

Monday, January 4, 2016

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Want an emotional ride? Gayle Forman’s book, If I Stay, is the book to read.  The reader embraces Mia and is carried along with her from the family’s car crash to the end of the book.  Mia’s being, or spirit, travels with her extended family throughout the hospital and the reader is caught up emotionally with what she is feeling and decisions she has to make.  From the very first page the reader is involved with the family.  The book is full of suspense and Gayle Forman did a tremendous job.  This is a must read for anyone who likes to be caught up in a book, emotionally, and maybe even shed a few tears. --Elaine Roberts

Forman, Gayle.  If I Stay.  New York: Penguin, 2009.  Print.