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.