Thursday, September 28, 2017

Guest Post: The Sounds of My Village by Ishmael Beah

Ishmael Beah by Sarah Stacke.  Image from

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

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

This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

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

Welcome Back!

We are looking forward to another school year of good reads! We will resume posting our reviews and recommendations of the best texts for educators serving incarcerated and detained youth here in New York City.  --Editors