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.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
This book is the only non-fiction text I've come across devoted to illuminating a narrative about the Panthers written in a manner that speaks to the young people I serve. (If you’re reading this and you’re aware of others, please speak up in the comments!) Interestingly structured as narrative history through the Panthers’ Ten Point Program, readers may find it helpful to create their own timelines as they read through the story Boyd weaves. Helpful backmatter includes “The Panther Pantheon,” an illustrated who’s who of the most famous Panthers; a short list of political prisoners with mailing addresses; an illustrated version of the Black Panther Party Program and Platform; a short timeline; a bibliography; and an index. Some readers may view the text as inflammatory where others read it as honest, but school librarians will be hard-pressed to find this essential history documented in a volume this accessible to teen readers. —Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Boyd, Herb. Black Panthers for Beginners. Danbury: For Beginners, 2015. Print.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
New York City Teen Author Festival (NYCTAF) completed its 10th annual event on March 26th. As part of NYC’s largest young adult literature (YA) event, Bronx Hope hosted a Big Read author panel through collaboration with Senior YA Librarian from The Bronx Library Center, Katie Fernandez.
Our author panel discussion featured six authors of young adult literature. Each author spoke about the type of writing they do, followed by an author reading, with each one reading an excerpt up to a full chapter from their book. At the conclusion of the presentations, students were able to ask questions. --Allison Trevaskis
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Would you like to know when everyone you love is going to die, even though you can do nothing to stop their deaths? Maddie has the ability to see everyone's death date. She uses this as a means of income to help her mother make ends meet after her father's death. Maddie charges people to tell them when they are going to die. However, after a reading goes wrong, Maddie becomes the prime suspect in a series of killings. Now, with the FBI watching her every move and her mother falling deeper and deeper into alcoholism, Maddie needs to find a way to prove her innocence. For readers who love a mystery mixed with a bit of fantasy, When is the book for you. --Claudio Leon
Laurie, Victoria. When. Los Angeles: Hyperion, 2016. Print.
Monday, April 3, 2017
Angela Davis, Saul Williams, Laverne Cox. Dave Chappelle, Spike Lee, Arturo Schomburg. Shirley Chisholm. Serena Williams. Cheryl Dunye. Ice T. Katherine Johnson. Jimi Hendrix.
Each luminary, along with twenty-six others, some more famous, some less, are featured in this handsome volume which takes a less-is-more approach, text-wise, and combines with a slick handmade aesthetic to make a book that is hard not to pick up and virtually unputdownable until it is over, too soon for this reader who would like to see at least five hundred more additions.
Each two-page spread features a grey scale portrait of its subject, and includes a short quote within its brightly colored frame. The adjacent page provides one or two simple and usually intriguing statements describing the subject and usually cites the source of the quote. Intended for older teens, this title will be sure to engage many who profess they do not like to read. Perfect for teachers and librarians seeking an entry point to discuss the citing of sources. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Wimberly, Ron. Black History in its Own Words. Portland: Image Comics, 2017. Print.
Friday, March 31, 2017
Similar to the Wicked History series, Twisted History takes a look at several historical figures, their lives and their actions. The title focuses more on each individual’s death and the reasons why each historical figure met their end the way they did. Twisted History is divided into three sections: Treachery & Torture, Saints and Sinners, Murder & Mayhem. Each of the sections contextualizes the figure within its category for example Joan of Arc is under Saints & Sinners while Vlad The Impaler is found under Treachery & Torture and Al Capone under Murder & Mayhem. Each profile is no longer than five pages and they are sprinkled with plenty of pictures making the title accessible to students in middle school and above. Those who enjoyed any of the Wicked History titles should enjoy Twisted History. --Claudio Leon
Watson, Howard. Twisted History: 32 true stories of torture, traitors, sadists and psychos... plus the most celebrated Saints in history. London: Quantum Books, 2015. Print.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
All four photos X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation, by Marcus Gardley, directed by Ian Belknap
The Acting Company
Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson
On Friday, March 24th, a small group of teachers at Belmont accompanied our placement students to Manhattan's New Victory Theater to see Marcus Gardley's X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation. Teaching artists Chad Beckim and Janet Oneyenuchea returned to Belmont on Monday to debrief with our students, some of whom spoke at length in response to the discussion questions the teaching artists posed. It was wonderful to see them draw out the synthesis that had taken place in many attendees' minds since the start of the unit back in February as they reflected on their learning experiences.
We are grateful to everyone at the New Victory Theater for their steadfast support of our students' learning and unwavering encouragement to New York City's detained youth, and to Literacy for Incarcerated Teens (LIT) for the funding to purchase such a large block of tickets so that all placement students and their chaperones could share this special theater-going experience together. Thank you!--Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
When a picture-book length biography of Malcolm X is needed and the reader is a pre-teen or teen, teachers and librarians may want to have Gunderson and Hayden’s volume handy. Gunderson has done an admirable job of summarizing the complex life of a complex hero and Hayden’s full-color illustrations in a mature neutral palette will no doubt further the accessibility of the text to developing readers who do not yet have the confidence or ability to visualize text independently. While most teachers will prefer to make longer versions of X’s life story accessible via audio and film resources, when a shorter print text is needed, this one may come in handy. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Gunderson, Jessica. Illustrated by Seitu Hayde. A Biography of Malcolm X. North Manakato: Capstone, 2011. Print.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
All three photos Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, directed by Devin Brain
The Acting Company
Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson
On Friday, several of us at Belmont took the Leake and Watts group to see an abridged production of Julius Caesar at the New Victory Theater. Mr. Villaronga worked with these students in ELA class to read through the classic. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who might want to see it on Sunday, but so I’ll just say that it is an excellent choice for adolescents considering themes of power, friendship, betrayal and violence. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
|New Victory Teaching Artists Janet Onyenuchea and Chad Beckim pose with students after a pre-theater workshop. Photo credit: Jessica Fenster-Sparber|
To get students ready to see X: Or, Betty Shabazz vs. The Nation in repertory with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, placement advisory classes have been reading Myers’ Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary for the last two and a half weeks. Part of a larger interdisciplinary collaboration with Social Studies and Art teachers, and heavily supported by Belmont's speech and reading specialists, placement students at Belmont have approached the historical figure and his context with a variety of lenses. Last Monday, songwriter Janet Onyenuchea and playwright Chad Beckim deepened the unit of study further when they visited Belmont to conduct pre-theater workshops with all placement groups in their roles as teaching artists with the New Victory Theater. Chad and Janet engaged students’ growing base of knowledge of Malcolm X’s life and death and then invited students to create tableaux and portraying a variety of roles relating to the play they are rescheduled to attend at the end of the week. We can’t wait! --Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Monday, March 20, 2017
Random Family follows the true life of Jessica, a young sixteen-year-old girl living in one of the poorest sections of the South Bronx during the Eighties. Jessica’s story is an eye-opener for anyone unfamiliar, and even for those familiar with the daily struggles of poverty. Leblanc does a phenomenal job immersing the reader in the challenges and life-altering decisions that the characters must make on a regular basis in order to survive the struggles of living in poverty. For this reader, Random Family is a painful read as I perceive the consequences of the choices the characters make. It’s painful to watch how one often solves a problem by creating another problem due to the lack of opportunity and choices that are available. This book is written for anyone reading at a high school level and above. Students who have read and liked Fist Stick Knife Gun will enjoy reading Random Family. --Claudio Leon
Click here for a reading group discussion guide from Simon and Schuster. Click here for an interview with the author of Random Family ten years after it was published.
Leblanc, Adrian Nicole. Random Family. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, has been running for the past three years, ever since the night he and his mother fled their home as Ghost’s father fired a gun at them. But can a spot on a track team motivate him to run towards the future instead of from the past? An impulsive and frequent fighter, Ghost must learn to face his problems head on, including himself, in order to envision an alternate future for himself. With a relatable protagonist, this novel is best for middle-grades students looking for realistic fiction in an urban setting. --Anne Lotito-Schuh
Reynolds, Jason. Ghost. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. Print.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Two powerful essays couched in the form of two letters, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is likely to be as gripping for incarcerated and detained young men of African descent born in America today as it was when it was originally published in 1963. Baldwin’s brilliant sentences, precise language, masterful rhetoric, and deeply felt honesty shine like a multi-faceted gem in the 106 pages of this short volume. For sophisticated readers who have read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow who are burning to read more and understand more but are not willing to tackle another long text (i.e. Dyson’s Making Malcolm or Manning’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention), give them this. This text would make an excellent compare and contrast pairing with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber
Click here for the DPLA teaching guide to exploring The Fire Next Time in a classroom context.
Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. New York: Vintage International, 1991. Print.