Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Split By Swati Avasthi

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

Programming Spotlight: American Museum of Natural History

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

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi; illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

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

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid by Metaphrog

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

Little Peach by Peggy Kern

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

The Odyssey by Homer Adapted by Tim Mucci

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

Homer, Mucci, Tim.  The Odyssey.  New York: Sterling, 2009.  Print.  Illustrated by Ben Caldwell & Rick Lacey, colored by Emanuel Tenderini

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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 Day of Dialog

@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

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

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.