Field Trips Abound!

by Jenna Danoy, Social Media Marketing Intern

captions and photographs by Camille Adeoye, Program Intern

Yesterday, our seventh graders from JHS 13 and some parent chaperones visited the African Burial Ground as part of their experience reading Zetta Elliott’s Ship of Souls.

In this young adult novel, the main character, D, and his friends Hakeem and Nyla are led across Brooklyn, in a journey steeped in history and suspense, that ends at the African Burial Ground. In a similar journey, our students ventured there with Ms. Elliott to learn about the sacred grounds.

Students look on as author Zetta Elliott explains that thousands of African bodies from colonial times lay hidden under Lower Manhattan, the only designated place for people of African descent to be buried at the time.

Ms. Elliott also helped boost enthusiasm for the burial ground by imparting her own knowledge.

“These are the graves they found,” she told the students. “They uncovered 419, and almost 40% were remains of children.”

Ms. Elliott’s contributions were definitely informative, and effectively brought the stories of the African slaves to life.

In addition to the supplements provided by Ms. Elliott, students interacted with the museum’s educational tools, like informational videos and a barrel on wheels that demonstrated just how physically taxing the slaves’ work was.

Two students listen to news coverage about the 1991 activism that led to the reburial of the African remains.

One student puts all his might into pushing the barrel up the platform to experience the labor African children did in the 17th and 18th centuries.

These tools really helped connect the students and parents with the lives of the slaves.

“Wow, [the African slaves] went through so much and died so young,” remarked Maggie. “It’s so sad; I cried in there.”

Despite the heat and the somber nature of the stories they heard, the students appeared very engaged and interested in what they were learning.

Marek, a student particularly enthralled with the burial ground, asserted his enthusiasm at the end of the day. “I really like to learn about things like this.”


BtB’s Top 10 Books for Middle Schoolers!

Recently, we’ve been featuring books for high schoolers by authors we love. Today, we made the picks! Here are BtB’s top 10 books for middle schoolers, as recommended by our outstanding staff:

Before We Were FreeBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez:
Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship. Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind. From renowned author Julia Alvarez comes an unforgettable story about adolescence, perseverance, and one girl’s struggle to be free. — Amazon

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio:
August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out. —Amazon

Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Peña:Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña:
Danny’s tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile per hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it. But at his private school they don’t expect much from him. Danny’s half Mexican. And growing up in San Diego means everyone else knows exactly who he is before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. To find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front of his face. —Amazon

I and I: Bob Marley by Tony Medina:I and I: Bob Marley by Tony Medina:
This lyrical picture-book biography of the reggae icon tells his story in verse, from humble beginnings in a small Jamaican village to his glory days as an influential musician. Told in first person, 17 poems chronologically plot Marley’s life path-combined, the poems (and vibrant acrylics) paint a vivid picture of the poverty and turmoil but also the love, faith and island beauty from which Marley arose. Watson’s (the illustrator) majestic art powerfully evokes the people and places that had the strongest influence on Marley, as well as the power he himself would wield. – Reed Business Information

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes:Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes:
Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane–Katrina–fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm. Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family–as only love can define it. —Amazon

Chess Rumble by Greg NeriChess Rumble by Greg Neri:
“In my ‘hood, battles is fought every day,” quips Marcus, an angry middle schooler on the brink of big trouble. His words, rife with frustration, tumble across page after page in free-flowing verse as he paints a picture of his quickly fading innocence. In the short time since his sister’s death, memories of eating ice cream and giggling have been replaced by the bleak reality of a persistent bully, fist fights, and an absent dad. After begrudgingly meeting CM, Chess Master, the school’s `bad dude’ chess club adviser, an extended `battle’ metaphor unfolds, concluding as Marcus takes responsibility for his own actions and moves his fighting off the street and onto the chessboard . . . –-School Library Journal

Cut by Patricia McCormickCut by Patricia McCormick:
Callie cuts herself. Never too deep, never enough to die. But enough to feel the pain. Enough to feel the scream inside. Now she’s at Sea Pines, a “residential treatment facility” filled with girls struggling with problems of their own. Callie doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. She doesn’t want to have anything to do with anyone. She won’t even speak. But Callie can only stay silent for so long…. —Amazon

The Battle of Jericho by Sharon DraperThe Battle of Jericho by Sharon Draper:
When an elite club, The Warriors of Distinction, invites Jericho and his cousin Josh to pledge, the teens look forward to wearing the black silk jacket, going to great parties, and receiving the admiring glances of the other students at their Ohio high school. The initiation process begins rather tamely with the new pledges helping with the Christmas toy drive, but as it progresses, Jericho becomes increasingly uncomfortable with what they are asked to do and the way they treat Dana, the first-ever female pledge. The characters are deeply human and the strong plot mirrors the difficult choices that young people must make as they try to reconcile their need for acceptance with their inner values. Mostly, though, this title is a compelling read that drives home important lessons about making choices. — Reed Business Information

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams GarciaOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia:
Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, One Crazy Summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 in search of the mother who abandoned them. It’s an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia. –Amazon

Ship of Souls by Zetta ElliottShip of Souls by Zetta Elliott:
When Dmitri, an 11-year-old bird watcher and math whiz, loses his mother to breast cancer, he is taken in by Mrs. Martin, an elderly white woman. Unaccustomed to the company of kids his own age, D struggles at school and feels like an outcast until a series of unexpected events changes the course of his life. An urban fantasy infused with contemporary issues and historical facts, Ship of Souls will keep teen readers gripped until the very end. —Amazon

Tales from Thurgood Marshall Academy

With one more month before school begins, we’re hard at work. We’re not only getting materials and new author programs ready for the next school year, but we’re also getting in the spirit for school to start again.

As we think about all the awesome moments from our school programs that ran last year, we get really excited and we almost can’t wait for the school year to begin.   While that may sound a bit strange when the sun is shining outside, and you’re on your way to the beach or the park, once you read these stories from our program associate, Chris’, visits to Thurgood Marshall Academy, you’ll understand.

The students read along as Zetta Elliott, shares a chapter from her book, Ship of Souls.

The Tale of Zetta’s Reading

Everyone in a class of sixth graders was given Zetta Elliott’s new book Ship of Souls, in preparation for Zetta’s visit.  However, because the teacher had to be absent to correct standardized tests in the days when she would have been preparing for Behind the book, the students hadn’t read very far into Ship of Souls before Zetta’s visit.

Zetta held a read-aloud so engaging that the students continued reading on their own over the weekend.

Not to be disheartened by a change of plans, Zetta read the next chapter aloud during her workshop and the students were hooked. The visit was on a Friday and the students asked their teacher for weekend reading homework so they could continue the story!

Rita Williams-Garcia reads aloud from her book, Jumped

The Tale of the Mobiles

Rita Williams Garcia visited a 7th grade. As part of their characterization study of her novel Jumped, students made mobiles with panels listing character traits and descriptions. It was quite a sight to walk into the classroom with colorful mobiles hanging from the ceiling.

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It is really beyond amazing to see firsthand the way meeting an author will motivate students to read and give them a tangible way to interact with literature.  Our programming and author visits give the students a way to connect to the stories, beyond just reading the book once and setting it aside in favor of a television program or a video game.  These stories show the strong connection that the students find with the books they read and the authors they meet in our program.  We love our authors, our program associates, and our students more than anything and we can’t wait to begin again in the fall!

If you have volunteered in a classroom and would like to submit a story, please send it to and your story may appear here, on the blog. Happy Reading!