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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Programming Spotlight: Fly at the New Victory Theater

Last week, students in the Lutheran group attended a performance of Fly at the New Victory Theater.  The play dramatizes the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and cleverly includes a dance griot, a role filled by the extraordinary Omar Edwards.  New Victory Teaching Artists Chad Beckim and Janet Onyenucheya, remarkable artists in their own right, visited the following day to debrief with the students, who turned out to be full of questions about stagecraft, military service, and world politics.  Many thanks to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for crucial funding that made this trip possible, and The New Victory Theater for providing us with access to this extremely worthwhile show.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

photo credit: The New Victory Theater

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive by David Pelzer

Parents are not supposed to have favorites, rather make each child feel special in their own way. At the age of five, David began receiving unusual treatment from his mother, and by seven, he knew he was the “chosen one” and not in a good sense of the term. As more brothers are born into the family, the gap between David as a member and outcast grows, as does the malice of his mother’s dreadfully twisted games. David’s ideal lifestyle of trips to the lake, playing freely, and holiday celebrations fade into memory as he must quickly adapt to her deranged behavior in order to survive. As David reveals the story of his youth, you may become angered with his parents’ sensibility as well as those in most direct contact with him. Dave’s story is one of the worst recorded cases of child abuse in California state history, although it is often refuted by his own family members. This controversial biography and subsequent extensions of his life story are told in The Lost Boy and A Man Called Dave. Dave Pelzer, who schedules more than 200 for profit speaking engagements released a self-help book, Help Yourself, further benefiting off those who are captivated by his story of struggle and perseverance. --Allison Trevaskis

Pelzer, David. A Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survive. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1995. Print.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

Shawn McDaniel is fourteen years old and has a great sense of humor about his life in Seattle, Washington. He appreciates his older brother and sister and his special ability to remember everything he has ever heard since he was three or four years old.  Especially since he can’t talk, or walk, or move much at all.  Reluctant readers may not immediately be able to relate to the narrator, but will be hooked when they learn of his plight and that his father might actually be trying to kill him.  Literally.  A post-novel FAQ and followed by an author Q & A reveals Trueman’s personal connection to the protagonist of this suspenseful short novel which, among other things, can go a long way in helping readers develop empathy.  A great selection for a mixed-age book club.  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Trueman, Terry.  Stuck in Neutral.  New York: HarperCollins, 2000.  Print.

Click here for some discussion questions for Stuck in Neutral put together by the Arrowhead Library System in Wisconsin.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Follow Your Money by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Glinka

Follow Your Money is a great way to get students thinking about how far their money goes. The book breaks down the cost of everyday items in order to demonstrate how much money goes into each of the item’s components. Without much financial jargon, Follow Your Money sheds light into what students pay for when they buy those designer jeans instead of the generic ones or those name brand sneakers instead of cheaper ones. The title is also peppered with small trivia about finance and the history of money. Students who enjoyed Start It Up or just want to know about how the world works will have much to learn from Follow Your Money. Needless to say, the book can also be a great tool for math teachers. --Claudio Leon

Sylvester, Kevin and Michael Hlinka. Follow Your Money. Buffalo: Firefly Books, 2013. Print.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Fable Comics edited by Chris Duffy

For teachers who cover fables: ELA, Greek and Latin, and general elementary teachers, as well as ESL and Reading specialists who provide academic remedial support to students whose teachers are covering fables, this title will be of interest.  The inimitable Chris Duffy has collected 28 fables, two-thirds attributed to Aesop and the balance being from a variety of cultures including American, European, Asian, and African.  As with all anthologies, the mix means that some hit their mark while others miss.  For teachers providing remedial support, the longer fables may be the most useful, among them Kochalka’s “The Fox and the Grapes,” Sikoryak’s “Lion + Mouse,” and Hernandez’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” offer stronger entry points.  The variety Duffy has assembled means that fans of the Flight and Explorer anthologies, and graphic novel fans in general will find favorite artists like George O’Connor and Maris Wicks mixed in with previously-unfamiliar illustrators like Corrine Mucha and Keny Widjaja.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Duffy, Chris (Editor).  Fable Comics.  New York: First Second, 2015.  Print.

Click here for a lesson plan from the anthology's own Corrine Mucha via First Second's website.