Friday, March 31, 2017

Twisted History by Howard Watson

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

Programming Spotlight: X: Or Betty Shabazz v. The Nation at the New Victory Theater

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

A Biography of Malcolm X by Jessica Gunderson, illustrated by Seitu Hayde

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

Programming Spotlight: Julius Caesar at the New Victory Theater

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

Programming Spotlight: Malcolm X & Julius Caesar

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 by Adrian Nicole Leblanc

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

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

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

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary by Walter Dean Myers

The story begins with a black man bleeding and being pulled from a police car with his hands cuffed behind his back on 123rd street in Harlem.  The year is 1957 and Myers draws the reader in immediately by describing the local community’s reaction and the emergence of the “formation of black men.  They were all dressed neatly with short haircuts, their arms folded before them.  Some wore dark glasses, many wore suits.  None of them were smiling. (3)”  Myers weaves a compelling narrative starting with Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam’s strategy for confronting police brutality in the late fifties and early sixties and then going back to the childhood and teen years of the child who would go on to courageously lead his followers, influence thinkers and activists around the world, and change the course of history in less than 200 pages.  Photographs of the subject and artifacts are sprinkled throughout.  Backmatter includes an index, photo credits, a bibliography, and a chronology which represents a double timeline; the left column of each page displays big events in American history beginning with the stock market crash in 1929, and the right column shows events in Malcolm’s life, beginning with his birth in 1925 and ending with three assassins’ sentencing in 1966.  A rich and timely work of narrative non-fiction. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Myers, Walter Dean.  Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary.  New York: Scholastic, 1993. Print.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly by Walter Dean Myers and Illustrated by Leonard Jenkins

There is much to love in this picture book biography featuring a condensed narrative which could easily interest a twelve or thirteen year old reader who is not yet familiar with the story of Malcolm X.  This text offers gorgeous, mature, full-color illustrations and emphasizes quotations from the subject on almost every page.  Malcolm’s words are woven into the narrative and set off from Myers’ text in bold block quotes.  This volume also features an unusual timeline as its only backmatter; unusual in that it covers the subject’s 39 years in twelve points and each point is accompanied by one or more quotes from Malcolm X. For example, the 1946 the text reads, “Malcolm is arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison.”  The accompanying quote reads, “ ‘I had gotten to the point where I was walking on my own coffin.  It’s a law of the rackets that every criminal expects to get caught.’” A helpful resource for scaffolding more sophisticated biographies of Malcolm X for tweens. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Myers, Walter Dean.  Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly.  New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.