Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Opening with the pivotal and devastating night of the Gatumba massacre, Uwiringiyimana brings the reader into the perilous moment of having her own life threatened at gunpoint and the tragic murder of her little sister, Deborah. But this memoir is about more than a single night, and Uwiringiyimana leads the reader back to the beginning to describe in detail her happy life in the Democratic Republic of Congo, albeit one periodically interrupted by conflict and challenged by poverty, before the Gatumba massacre. Equal focus is given to her life in America, and the struggles she faced as a refugee assimilating to American culture during the tumultuous middle grades years. Channeling her grief through photography and activism, Uwiringiyimana has become a spokesperson for children in conflict, addressing the United Nations Security Council and serving as cofounder and director of partnerships and communications at Jimbere Fund. This book will appeal to students in grades 8 and up looking for “real” stories. --Anne Lotito-Schuh
Uwiringiyimana, Sandra, and Abigail Pesta. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child. Katherine Tegen Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. Print.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
A must read for all Passages Academy staff, A Stone of Hope is the story of former student Jim St. Germain, from his impoverished childhood in rural Haiti, his tumultuous youth in Crown Heights, his transformative adolescence with Boys Town, to his passionate pursuit of higher education and current activism seeking to improve the experiences of incarcerated and at-risk youth. St. Germain’s story is a powerful testament to the importance of second chances and the need for strong adult advocates. Warming this librarian’s heart were passages on the pivotal moment of finding the right book at the right time. For St. Germain, that book was The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise, and Fulfill a Dream. Without peers to make a pact with, St. Germain made a pact with himself, one that he was able to keep because of the guidance, understanding, and assistance he was given from a team of mentors while a resident with Boys Town. Prominently featured is Passages Academy’s own Mrs. Donna Oglio, now retired. While St. Germain gives much credit to his mentors for never giving up on him, it was obvious to this reader that much credit is due to St. Germain’s own strong-willed self-determination. Highly recommended for confident readers looking for a “real” story, and perhaps in need of the right book at the right time. --Anne Lotito-Schuh
Jim St. Germain is the cofounder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT).
St Germain, Jim, with Jon Sternfeld. A Stone of Hope: A Memoir. HarperCollins, 2017. Print.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Seventeen-year old Justyce McAllister’s ex-girlfriend, Melo, is too drunk to drive her Benz home at 3am and Justyce knows it. Justyce is arrested by a local police officer while attempting to save Melo from her inebriated self. The incident shades Justyce’s evolving perceptions of his economically-advantaged peers at the boarding school he attends on scholarship. Justyce decides to to process his thoughts in letters he writes to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wondering what the late, great activist would have done in his shoes and in this cultural and historical moment, which has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Plot twists abound and recommend this to fans of Sitomer’s Caged Warrior. Narrative shifts through genre and perspective, as well as the topical content, invite comparisons to How It Went Down , The Hate U Give, and Tears of a Tiger. Highly recommended for independent reading for older middle school readers and up. Book clubs may enjoy discussing this title as well. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Expected release date: October 17th, 2017. The text reviewed was an Advanced Readers' Copy.
Stone, Nic. Dear Martin. New York: Random House, 2017. Print.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
The Girl Meets Boy Inn is infamous for all of the murders that took place in the mansion-turned-hotel. Stories float around town about the place’s haunted nature and neighbors prefer to walk several blocks out of the way rather than walk anywhere near it. Noelle, however, needs a summer job to get away from her crazy father who she has to care for since her mother abandoned them. That and she really wants an adventure, something dramatic to spice things up in her life. Noelle and her best friend, Alf, take the nightshift at the hotel, but little do they know this will be their last summer alive.
Girl Meets Boy Massacre is an engrossing read, it captures the readers in the first few pages by revealing the ending; a group of teens mysteriously and gruesomely massacred, Noelle and Alf included. Then it uses Noelle’s journal entries to give the reader a first person’s perspective of the events leading to the massacre. The most interesting aspect of the book is that the journal entries are annotated by both the lead detective who could not solve the mystery and a film producer that wants to turn Noelle’s journal into a horror flick, both of which help flesh out the journal entries. Students looking for a good horror/mystery/suspense novel need look no further. Readers who enjoyed Cirque Du Freak, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and When should pick this one up as well.--Claudio Leon
Hogarth, Ainslie. Boy Meets Girl Massacre (Annotated). Woodbury: Flux, 2015. Print.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Passing through customs in New York City’s JFK airport, teenage Fabiola and her mother are separated. Not understanding her mother’s detainment, Fabiola is directed to proceed to Detroit where her three cousins and aunt Jo await her. Fabiola has no choice but to continue her journey alone, and she is surprised and dismayed by the reception she receives among family in Detroit. The title of the book will draw some readers looking for urban fiction, and expectations will be initially dashed as the exposition is slow to bring Fabiola into immediate danger. Readers who persevere, however, will be hooked by page 157. Some magical realism, literary language, perspective changes, and Haitian Kreyol make this a good selection for students who have already developed some confidence, and the 300+ page length requires a moderate amount of stamina--somewhat less than The Hate U Give’s 25% longer duration. Highly recommended independent reading for teens.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. New York: HarperCollins, 2017.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
|Ishmael Beah by Sarah Stacke. Image from www.themoth.org|
Best known for his experiences as a child soldier in the memoir A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah’s pre-war childhood in a rural village of Sierra Leone deserves as much attention. This story is an audio recording of Beah’s performance for The Moth, a group which organizes live storytelling events worldwide. In recounting his upbringing, Beah pays homage to his community and its traditions.
When he was nine, Beah’s grandmother told him that “each person’s mind is their own personal library, and as life breathes its moments before you, those moments become memories, and those memories become narratives [...] that you put on a shelf in your own personal library.” Inspired by her words to create his own rich narrative, Beah inscribes the rhythms of his village in his mind: the morning cry of the birds, the evening communal meal, and the elders’ nightly stories. With tenderness and humor, Beah narrates how his life, once anchored by the warmth of tradition, is torn apart by the unending impact of war. He draws attention to how each victim’s death is the loss of a storyteller and intimates that war does not just destroy the individual but wipes out the collective memory of a culture. War creates a past without storytellers, a tradition without practitioners, and survivors without access to the narratives they need to understand their place in civilization. This story provides an engaging introduction to Beah’s memoir and implants the idea that a young adult’s life is rich enough to compose a personal library.
While this story, suitable for students ages 9 and up, is easily accessible to English speakers, Beah’s dialect may require additional support and scaffolding to aid students in their understanding.
You can access “The Sounds of My Village” here on The Moth’s website.
Esther Kau currently teaches middle school English in New Jersey. Her current roster of books include Garth Greenwall’s What Belongs to You, her daughter’s favorite, Ben Clanton’s Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, and her son’s favorite, Steve Light’s Cars Go.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
The down-to-earth star of Precious strikes a conversational tone and shares her life story so far. Growing up in Harlem in a family drawn together by necessity instead of romance, Sidibe articulates her maturing perspective, now suffused with humor, regarding the challenges of her unique experience of her parents’ green card marriage, childhood visits to family in West Africa, unstable housing, school struggles, fame, and elective surgery. Older teen readers looking for a new memoir may well enjoy Gabourey Sidibe’s recently published volume. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Sidibe, Gabourey. This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Fort Mose: And the Story of the Man Who Built the First Free Black Settlement in Colonial America by Glennette Tilley Turner
The title says it all: who among us wouldn’t be fascinated by the origins of the first free black settlement in colonial America? While students may not initially settle upon this title as an independent reading selection, its concise presentation and accompanying images of historical maps, illustrations, and portraits present a part of American history not usually included in survey textbooks and offers insight into Spain’s complex role in liberating enslaved Africans and Native Americans from British slavers. Multilingualism, Catholicism, piracy, Cuba and rice all have parts to play in this short story presented in a picture-book sized volume in which the text takes center stage. Backmatter includes an afterword on Fort Mose today, an author’s note, acknowledgements, a glossary, notes, a list of sources and credits capped off by an index, making this volume well-poised for inquiry instruction for readers who are reading for information and newer to research.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Turner, Glennette Tilley. Fort Mose: And the Story of the Man Who Built the First Free Black Settlement in Colonial America. New York: Abrams, 2010. Print.
Friday, September 15, 2017
Friday, July 21, 2017
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Jace has finally escaped. He is on his way to join his brother Christian because only Christian can understand what Jace has been through. Once reunited Jace and his brother can come up with a plan to rescue their mother from all of the abuse their father has subjected them to. Jace will soon find out that his brother might not be ready to face their past.
Split shows the complexities of relationships in families dealing with an abusive father and how those involved are more than one dimensional people. Even though Jace, Christian, and their mother have been subject to constant abuse, the reader is shown how difficult it can be for those individuals to pull away from such a toxic environment. Split delivers strong messages about relationship and family abuse and how to deal with the fallout of being part of such a relationship. The book is geared towards older middle school students and above.--Claudio Leon
Avasthi, Swati. Split. New York: Ember, 2010. Print
Thursday, June 22, 2017
The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray, Photographs by Theodore Gray and Nick Mann
Plutonium is illegal to buy anywhere in the United States, but some Americans carry it inside their pacemaker batteries. Bananas are radioactive, but only slightly more so that many other things we consume. Gray mixes fascinating tidbits like these with narrative descriptions of each element’s properties and finds a way to inject the end of each page with a bit of suspense sprinkled with humor. The two-page spreads dedicated to each element are preceded by Gray’s introduction to the periodic table. Gray’s writing is remarkable science writing on its own, but the accompanying photographs illustrating both the element being described and some of its uses with captions is a winning formula for readers who may not think they like to read about chemistry. Backmatter includes a narrative walk through the names of elements 101 to 118 on the table and is followed by an author’s note on the joys of element collecting, an image of the author, a bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index. All patrons may enjoy browsing and reading the images within; students reading at upper elementary/middle school levels and beyond may enjoy the text, and science teachers may reach for this in designing lessons to familiarize students with the variety of elements on Earth. Highly recommended for every school library collection serving middle school and high school readers.—Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Gray, Theodore and Nick Mann. The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2009. Print.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
|Students exploring dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History yesterday. Photo: Jessica Fenster-Sparber|
How did the universe come into being and how has it changed over the last 13 billion years? What is dark energy and how do we know it exists? How are species endemic to Cuba affected by what we do here in the United States? How much krill can a blue whale consume in one day?
Students residing in Lutheran and St. Johns houses were invited to wonder about these questions and more in conjunction with a field trip yesterday to NYC's most popular field trip destination, the American Museum of Natural History. Four of us teachers at Belmont crafted a mini-interdisciplinary unit for the end of the instructional school year melding science, information literacy, advisory, and special education to scaffold a positive learning experience and provide access to the museum for detained youth. We thank Literacy for Incarcerated Teens for funding the gift of the visit to our students.--Elaine Latham, Shelley Leibusor, Milena Mihalache, and Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Thursday, June 15, 2017
Imagine that one day your country decides to incarcerate you and your entire family. The crime? Your ethnicity. If your answer is fight back, you would be in the good company of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American who took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court after the United States sent thousands of Japanese-Americans to internment camps during WWII. After Korematsu was arrested and convicted for not reporting to prison camp, many of those imprisoned did not support his fighting back for fear that their situation would worsen. Korematsu lost that first case, and rebuilt his life after the war, marrying and becoming a father, never telling his children about the case or his time in an internment camp until his teenage daughter read about it at school. When it was revealed that the lawyers for the US government lied to the Supreme Court, the case was reopened and Korematsu won. Each chapter of Korematsu’s story opens with a full-page illustration, a free-verse narrative poem, and a two-page spread providing historical context, scrapbook-styled primary documents, a helpful timeline, and important vocabulary words. While this is not a book most students will select for independent reading, its compact packaging of information and visual appeal are ideal for those teaching American history. --Anne Lotito-Schuh
Atkins, Laura, and Stan Yogi. Fred Korematsu Speaks Up. Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2017. Print. Fighting for Justice.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
This handsome, full-color comic tells Andersen’s original tale with gorgeous illustration. The lettering is small and the text is minimal while the pictures are stunning. Students familiar with Disney’s The Little Mermaid will enjoy comparing this telling of the fairy tale with the Disney movie of their childhood. Of particular interest in comparative discussions will be the theme, the ending, and the sea witch’s perspective on the value of the little mermaid’s voice. Perfect for book clubs who wish to read a story and discuss it in one sitting.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Metaphrog. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Papercutz: New York, 2017. Print.
Friday, June 9, 2017
After running away from her drug-addicted mother and abusive stepfather, Michelle finds herself all alone at NYC’s Port Authority bus terminal, making her easy prey for Devon. With his charms and open arms, Devon tricks Michelle into coming to live with him and his three other girls. Michelle suddenly she finds herself trapped and unable to escape the confines of Devon’s world. With little choice, she accepts her role as Devon’s Little Peach and is forced into an early life of prostitution. Little Peach is a powerful short novel which deals with the inner workings of how individuals prey on young girls and trick them into prostitution. It is written at a middle school reading level, and you won’t find any graphic descriptions, but the topic makes the book more suited for 9th graders and above. Students who enjoyed reading Sold will also enjoy reading Little Peach.--Claudio Leon
Kern, Peggy. Little Peach. New York: Balzer Bray, 2015. Print.
Thursday, June 8, 2017
This cartoon-y adaptation of Homer’s epic poem jettisons the poetry to make room for silliness and gorgeously color-saturated illustrations. The font, rendering dialogue in all caps which will be difficult for some to read, may appeal to lovers of graffiti as it looks like it could have been done with a sharpie. The narrative Mucci spins is choppy if one sets out to read this through for the story, but in terms of the sections he chooses to dwell on, the art is thoroughly enjoyable. Teachers may want to supplement a reading of the poem with scenes like the addicted lotus eaters, his visit to the underworld, his passage through Scylla and Charybdis, and the final bloodbath when he arrives home only to find dozens of men who say they wish to marry his wife.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Starr Carter is one person in her neighborhood, a place she reluctantly refers to as “the ghetto,” and another person at school, an expensive private school where she is one of a handful of minorities. But when Starr is the only witness to the murder of Khalil, one of her best friends, at the hands of a police officer, Starr finds it harder and harder to keep her neighborhood persona separate from her school persona. The police, the media, the local gang, and the community each assert their versions of who Khalil was and how he died. But will Starr find the courage to stand up for Khalil now that he can no longer speak for himself? This novel is absolutely perfect for a book club with each chapter offering up new issues to unpack on issues like police violence, gangs, interracial dating, class divides, family dynamics, friendship, activism, race relations, and white privilege. Sure to be a popular independent read. --Anne Lotito-Schuh
Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. New York, NY: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen. 2017. Print.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
|@School Library Journal's Annual Day of Dialog: from left to right: Anne Lotito Schuh, Paul Griffin, Lisa Von Drasek, and Jessica Fenster-Sparber. Photo credit: Joan Slattery|
On March 31st two of us (Anne and Jessica) attended School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog. Highlights of the day included the keynote speech by National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang; author panels on non-fiction, middle grade readers, and YA fiction; lunch with one of Passages’ favorite visiting authors, Paul Griffin; and the opportunity to scout out forthcoming titles for Passages students and teachers.
Lunchtime bonus: we met the famous Lisa Von Drasek, formerly of Bank Street College, who, among many other things, turns out to be the keeper of the Monster manuscript. Stay tuned for more on this apocryphal document.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Apartheid in South Africa is not a topic students or teachers usually approach with humor, which makes Noah’s book unique in a school library collection. Using both his lived experience as well as his famous trademark humor, Noah recounts his childhood in South Africa as a multiracial young person through anecdotes. The book is structured to provide enough context between anecdotes to offer readers the necessary schema to both laugh at Noah’s jokes and begin to comprehend the horrors of the South African system of apartheid. In doing so, this book is sure to broaden readers’ comparative perspectives on state-sponsored racism and is likely to lead a curious mind to wonder about the history of a nation they may previously only have connected to the name Nelson Mandela. Teens may enjoy discussing Noah’s perspective on serious matters like, crime, poverty, and domestic violence, all of which are woven throughout the book. Recommended for older teen readers as well as book clubs. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Noah, Trevor. Born A Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016. Print.
Click here for a short discussion guide published on the blog Book Chatter.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
|Both images are from the photographer's website, www.thomasmarent.com|
Thomas Marent’s stunning high-definition photographs of moths and butterflies are each accompanied by six to eight sentences from Dr. Ronald Ornstein who holds a PhD in zoology and has authored numerous books on science and nature. His tack in this title is to whet the reader’s appetite for more with intriguing facts about butterflies and moths. The last third of the book showcases some of the more surprising images of caterpillars and a couple of pupas. This book will work well for developing a student’s interest in an inquiry undertaking and can be read from start to finish or browsed. Backmatter is limited to an index and Orenstein’s one-page introduction provides a welcoming invitation to this 63-page volume. Perfect for reluctant readers and less-sophisticated adolescents reading at an upper-elementary or lower-middle school level. —Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Orenstein, Ronald and Thomas Marent. Weird Butterflies & Moths. New York: Firefly Books, 2016. Print.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
“I am wild, untamed, unattached, unfettered.” O’Connor does not disappoint when he finally allows us to hear Artemis’ voice, but he takes a while to get there, permitting several other voices to narrate Artemis’ story. While the transitions do not always go smoothly, it is a small price to pay for the overall effect of O’Connor’s manner of weaving together multiple storylines to present an Artemis with a rare emotional complexity and challenging family situation. The quality of care and creativity displayed in the storytelling and artwork is surprisingly paralleled in the front- and backmatter, which includes a very helpful family tree, character pages, discussion questions, annotated bibliography, and notes. The latter two do an admirable job conveying the author’s humorous and playful attitude toward his seriously well-done research and thus conveys the persona of a researcher/writer/artist in a context generally skipped over by casual young readers. Artemis is a valuable teaching text students will be motivated to read independently.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber
O’Connor, George. Artemis: Wild Goddess of the Hunt. New York: First Second, 2017.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
|Dream Jordan visits Passages Academy's school library at Horizon Juvenile Detention Center on May 10th, 2017. Photo credit: Claudio Leon.|
Author of YA novels Hot Girl and Bad Boy, Dream Jordan, visited the Horizon library on May 10th. She spoke with several students about her work and her life and gave students advice on how to stay above the problems they often face. Ms. Jordan was very inspiring to our students and they all loved getting to meet and speak with her. --Claudio Leon
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
While the introductory premise to this manga series requires quite a suspension of disbelief--an alien threatening to destroy Earth has chiselled away most of the moon and can only be placated by being allowed to teach a group of struggling Japanese middle school students how to assassinate him along with their regular school subjects--manga fans will enjoy joining the group of students who are at the bottom of their school’s totem pole and marveling at a teacher who can regenerate limbs and fly through the air at a speed of Mach 20. The violence of classroom assassination attempts makes this unsuitable for younger readers, but the violence is so over-the-top as to be unrealistic. The storyline allows various students to express their feelings of frustration in regard to teachers at their demanding school as they try to determine Sensei Koro’s weaknesses and appreciate his successes as well as his care for them. Originally published weekly in a manga magazine, the story is episodic and seems to grow in complexity as new characters are introduced and the plot thickens. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Friday, May 5, 2017
Dana is a young black writer living in California during the 1970s when she is suddenly thrust back in time to a slaveholding plantation in Maryland. She quickly learns that it is Rufus, the plantation master’s son, who has the mysterious power to call her back whenever his life is in danger. Dana learns that Rufus is actually her ancestor, and as she watches him take over the plantation, she struggles to ensure her own existence as saving Rufus becomes more repulsive. Thirty-five years after Octavia Butler’s most popular novel was first published, the graphic adaptation does not shy away from the horrors and brutality of slavery. Although technically a work of science fiction, this adaptation could easily support a unit of study on American history and may appeal to students who like historical graphic novels. --Anne Lotito-Schuh
Duffy, Damian. Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred: a graphic novel adaptation. New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2017. Print.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Tsukimi is a young woman whose passion in life is jellyfish and whose mother has passed away, leading Tsukimi to move into a women-only building in Tokyo. While she finds community with her new neighbors, her newfound independence amongst the like-minded amars is threatened when she is befriended by an attractive cross-dressing boy who happens to be the son of a powerful Japanese politician. Will the amars be able to accept Tsukimi’s new friend? Will their community survive a developer’s attempt to take it over? These volumes collect the Princess Jellyfish series which was originally published in 2008 in serial format and was released as anime in 2010. Fans of anime will enjoy reading the print, and female manga readers who are not yet familiar with the characters will enjoy the discovery that awaits them, blending otaku culture, humor, suspense, and romance, along with a plotline that involves the politics of gentrification.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Higashimura, Akiko. Princess Jellyfish (Book 1). New York: Kodashna Comics, 2016. Print.
Friday, April 28, 2017
A volume of poetry, portraiture, and history, Of Poetry & Protest is “unapologetically political,” specifically addressing police violence, Black Lives Matter, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers, and how poetry and protest converse with one another. Forty-three living poets are featured, each with a full page portrait, one of their poems, and perhaps most interestingly, a first person narrative describing each writer’s journey to becoming a poet. Throughout the pages are scattered cultural ephemera including fine art, album artwork, posters, flyers, and photographs. This volume lends itself to a unit on current affairs as well as history, author studies, and obviously poetry. Recommended for strong readers.--Anne Lotito-Schuh
Cushway, Philip and Michael Warr, Eds. Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016. Print.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
|Ms. Baxter-Sweet outside of Crosroads. Photo re-posted from DNAinfo/Noah Hurowitz|
Congratulations to Ms. Baxter-Sweet, Passages Academy's multi-sited Principal, on being named "Principal of the Week" by DNAinfo.com while we were away on break! Click here to read the whole interview.