New To Our Shelves: October 2016

It is that time of the year again, when our book orders finally start rolling in. As is usually the case, we got fewer books this year than last year, and we got fewer books last year than the year before. I wonder how long it will be before I only have one new book to report? Until then, I will share with you some of the best of the best titles that we have added to our humble collection. Below you will find three picks from our fiction, non-fiction, graphic novel and test prep/ pro-development sections, along with descriptions lifted from sites such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Goodreads.



How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. “When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.”

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. “A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies. True love. The truth. We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.”

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. “Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame? As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are”.


Graphic Novels

March Volumes 1 & 2 at told by John Lewis. “Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president. Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell.

The Divine by Lavie Boaz. “Mark’s out of the military, these days, with his boring, safe civilian job doing explosives consulting. But you never really get away from war. So it feels inevitable when his old army buddy Jason comes calling, with a lucrative military contract for a mining job in an obscure South-East Asian country called Quanlom. They’ll have to operate under the radar―Quanlom is being torn apart by civil war, and the US military isn’t strictly supposed to be there. With no career prospects and a baby on the way, Mark finds himself making the worst mistake of his life and signing on with Jason. What awaits him in Quanlom is going to change everything. What awaits him in Quanlom is weirdness of the highest order: a civil war led by ten-year-old twins wielding something that looks a lot like magic, leading an army of warriors who look a lot like gods. What awaits him in Quanlom is an actual goddamn dragon. From world-renowned artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka (twins, whose magic powers are strictly confined to pen and paper) and Boaz Lavie, The Divine is a fast-paced, brutal, and breathlessly beautiful portrait of a world where ancient powers vie with modern warfare and nobody escapes unscathed.



Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opioid Epidemic by Sam Quinones. “With a great reporter’s narrative skill and the storytelling ability of a novelist, acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones weaves together two classic tales of capitalism run amok whose unintentional collision has been catastrophic. The unfettered prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s reached its peak in Purdue Pharma’s campaign to market OxyContin, its new, expensive–extremely addictive–miracle painkiller. Meanwhile, a massive influx of black tar heroin–cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico’s west coast, independent of any drug cartel–assaulted small town and mid-sized cities across the country, driven by a brilliant, almost unbeatable marketing and distribution system. Together these phenomena continue to lay waste to communities from Tennessee to Oregon, Indiana to New Mexico.”

The Brothers; The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen. “On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 264 others. In the ensuing manhunt, Tamerlan Tsarnaev died, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured and brought to trial. Yet even after the guilty verdict and the death sentence, what we didn’t know was why. Why did the American Dream go so wrong for two immigrants? How did such a nightmare come to pass? Acclaimed Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen is uniquely able to tell us. A teenage immigrant herself, she returned to Russia to cover firsthand the transformations that wracked the region from the 1990s on. It is there that she begins her astonishing account of the Tsarnaev brothers, descendants of ethnic Chechens deported to Central Asia in the Stalin era. Following the family in their futile attempts to make a life for themselves in one war-torn locale after another and then, as new émigrés, in an utterly disorienting new world, she reconstructs the brothers’ struggle between assimilation and alienation, which incubated a deadly sense of mission.”

How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt; From Chapter One, “The death of the mp3 was announced in a conference room in Erlangen, Germany, in the spring of 1995. For the final time, a group of supposedly impartial experts snubbed the technology, favoring its eternal rival, the mp2. This was the end, and the mp3’s inventors knew it. They were running out of state funding, their corporate sponsors were abandoning them, and, after a four-year sales push, the technology had yet to secure a single long-term customer. Attention in the conference room turned to Karlheinz Brandenburg, the driving intellectual force behind the technology and the leader of the mp3 team. Brandenburg’s work as a graduate student had pointed the way to the technology, and for the last eight years he had worked to commercialize his ideas. He was ambitious and intelligent, with a contagious vision for the future of music. Fifteen engineers worked under him, and he oversaw a million-dollar research budget. But with the latest announcement, it looked as if he had led his team into a graveyard.”


Test Preparation/ Professional Development

Find it Fast by Robert Berkman. “Author Robert Berkman gives expert advice on how to search the internet to locate the best information sources, how to find and utilize the professionals behind those sources, and how to combine these techniques to complete an information search on any subject. This fully updated 6th edition includes how to search beyond Google, leveraging big data in the search process, and how to search the social web. Readers will also find expert advice on how to know if a site is a trusted source; understanding how and why sources differ; using precision search strategies and taming information overload; and finding, evaluating, and identifying experts. Whether it’s consumer advice, information for a job or project, facts for starting a new business, or answers to questions on obscure topics, Find It Fast is the perfect resource for learning to hone one’s internet searching skills.”

Using Apps for Learning Across the Curriculum: A Literacy-Based Framework and Guide by Richard Beach: “How can apps be used to foster learning with literacy across the curriculum? This book offers both a theoretical framework for considering app affordances and practical ways to use apps to build students’ disciplinary literacies and to foster a wide range of literacy practices.

Using Apps for Learning Across the Curriculum

  • presents a wide range of different apps and also assesses their value
  • features methods for and apps related to planning instruction and assessing student learning
  • identifies favorite apps whose affordances are most likely to foster certain disciplinary literacies
  • includes resources and apps for professional development
  • provides examples of student learning in the classroom

A website ( with resources for teaching and further reading for each chapter, a link to a blog for continuing conversations about topics in the book (, and more enhance the usefulness of the book.

Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT (Kaplan Test Prep): Prepare for the New SAT with confidence from the test maker with more than 75 years of expertise! Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT features effective new strategies and practice for the College Board’s redesigned SAT. Big changes are coming to the SAT in Spring 2016. The redesign affects the way the test is structured, administered, timed, and scored. The Math Test requires a deep knowledge of advanced algebra and data analysis as well as critical thinking and real-world problem solving skills. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing require not only strong reading and analysis skills, but also the ability to interpret data and use evidence to make conclusions and inferences. And, the optional Essay is now twice as long and twice as hard.

Sound scary? Don’t worry—Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT explains what you need to know about the new test, and how you can begin to prepare for it.


Thank you for stopping by and hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.

Opening thoughts on Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind

Editor’s Note: This year the faculty and staff at my school will be reading and discussing Eric Jensen’s Teaching With Poverty in Mind and I will be leading one of many discussion groups. The thoughts and opinions here are my own and do not reflect the feelings, ideas or positions of the school administration or of the faculty in general.

                  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic American novel, The Great Gatsby, opens with narrator, Nick Carroway, telling his audience, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’.” It’s a sobering thought, especially for those of us fortunate enough to have grown up with some “advantages”.

                  For writer Eric Jensen, it seems to be the kind of thought he has had on many occasions, admitting in the introduction to his book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind that he, “was simply unable to fathom why the poor could (or would) not lift themselves out of poverty. (He) believed that if ‘those people’ simply tried harder or had ‘better values’, they would be able to succeed. “ Jensen goes on to explain that his attitude was “small-minded and prejudiced”, but that he has since traveled extensively and learned things that “opened (his) eyes and transformed (his) soul”.

                  This is exactly the kind of language you would expect to hear at a revival or carnival, for you see, Eric Jensen is an education snake oil salesman; a charlatan who rides into school districts with his thin volumes of pretend academic research ready to offer desperate administrators a quick solution to their myriad problems. Like spiritualist, Deepak Chopra, who hijacks the language of quantum mechanics to talk about spiritual vibrations, energy levels and the non-locality of the mind, Eric Jensen obfuscates his trickery by cloaking it in fabulous language. Just take for example, his definition of poverty which is … “a chronic and debilitating condition that results from multiple adverse synergistic risk factors and affects the mind, body and soul.” No matter how good the professional development seminars that Jensen delivers are, I don’t think I will ever be certified to work on people’s souls.

                  But Jensen’s writing and presentation styles are persuasive, so they work like the charms they are supposed to be. Like Ruby Payne, and her book Framework for Understanding Poverty, before him, Eric Jensen travels around the country spreading what in academic circles is known as the “deficit-model” of education; a philosophy that views students as “broken” or “missing something”. Jensen does this (and has been doing it for nearly two decades) under the guise of “Brain-based” education because, after all, that sounds really smart, doesn’t it?

                  One of my problems with Jensen in general, and with his book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, specifically, comes from the fact that some of the research he relies on is twenty years old and older. This is especially worrisome since so many advances in brain imaging and cognitive science have been made in the last two decades. In the first chapter alone, for example, Jensen cites Freiberg (1993), Bradley, et al (1994), Graber and Brooks-Dunn (1995), and Mouton & Hawkins (1996). To make matters worse, the information Jensen cherry picks to make his case, is less than conclusive enough for him to then extrapolate to a more general scenario. According to Jensen’s research, “40% of children living in chronic poverty had deficiencies in at least two areas of functioning at age 3” (Bradley, et al., 1994). This means that more than half of the children in CHRONIC poverty did NOT show these affects.

                  For Jensen, however, this kind of evidence seems to lead him to such outrageous conclusions as, “…children raised in poor households often fail to learn these [healthy, appropriate emotional] responses, to the detriment of their school performance. “ Among the responses he believes poor children don’t learn at home are things such as gratitude, forgiveness, patience and empathy. This is not true, according to Assistant Professor of Psychology and writer, Michael W. Krauss who says, “Disposed to reduced social and economic resources, lower-class individuals’ outcomes are more likely to hinge on outside forces. These conditions make it so that it is more costly for lower-class individuals to mis-read others’ emotions. In contrast, abundant social and economic resources allow relatively upper-class individuals to navigate the social world without (for the most part) incurring social costs that come from not reading others’ emotions. In essence, while upper-class individuals can remain blissfully unaware of others’ emotions, their lower-class counterparts must be vigilant of the emotions of others to identify both social opportunities and potential social costs.”

                  Jensen does this sort of thing throughout the first few chapters (I am only on Chapter 3), making negative blanket statements about the impact poverty has on people, without ever considering the kind of resourcefulness and ingenuity that necessity demands of them. Furthermore, he makes claims about low SES students that could be applied to students in general, and to teenagers in high school more specifically.

                  Take for example the opening paragraph of the first chapter, “Understanding the Nature of Poverty”. He begins with an anecdote that introduces us to history teacher Chris Hawkins (whom he doesn’t clarify is a real person or a pseudonym for a real person or just a name for a character in a story he is telling us). Jensen says that Hawkins is desperate and that like others who teach economically disadvantaged students, he complains of their “chronic tardiness, lack of motivation, and inappropriate behavior.” Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a high school, no matter what social class the students belong to, will attest to the fact that these are traits shared by many teenagers, not just poor ones.

                  But Jensen persists in making such misguided leaps of logic and uses great slight of hand to smooth over the nonsense that he is pushing. Near the end of the first chapter, he writes, “Many nonminority (does he mean White?) or middle-class teachers cannot understand why children from poor backgrounds act the way they do at school. Teachers don’t need to come from their students’ cultures to be able to teach them, but empathy and cultural knowledge are essential. Therefore, an introduction to how students are affected by poverty is highly useful.” To which I respond, “wait … what?” Is Jensen implying here that poverty is some students’ cultures? If he is, then I missed that part of his thesis. If he isn’t, then he needs to continue editing his slim manual so that it makes more sense.                                  

                  Like the best con artists, Eric Jensen has made a name for himself by co-opting the language of the field, preparing professional looking wares and stringing together other people’s research and ideas to suit his own means and ends. It is the kind of junk science that may be fine when ghost hunting, preparing herbal supplements or tracking ancient aliens, but educators should not fall for it. Viewing our poor students as having sub-optimal brains or being somehow deficient of such basic human emotions as humility or optimism seems monstrous to me and unacceptable as a teacher and a father.

                  Of course we want to improve our schools and be better teachers for our students; their success is our success. But we cannot be lured by false promises or quick fixes like the idea that simply changing our attitudes will correct deep, systemic and persistent deficiencies. In closing, I would like to return to Nick Carroway, who says, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——”

                 We may still be able to realize our American Dreams.

And now, some definitions and some numbers.

Poverty as defined by is the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.1

Poverty as defined by the Federal Government is a family of two (2) people making less than $15,391. Three (3) people making less than $18,871. Four (4) people making less than $24,257. Five (5)  people making less than $28,7412

According to the 2014 income-to-poverty ratios, 6.6 percent of Americans were living in deep poverty. Among children, the rate is higher: 9.3 percent of children were living under 50 percent of their family’s poverty threshold.3

In 2014, the Median Household Income in the United States was $53,5674

  •                   In Massachusetts, it was $69,200
  •                   In Essex County, it was $70,074
  •                   In Haverhill it was $61,2085

According to one set of data from the site, Haverhill has 12.2% of its population living in poverty. According to another set of data from the same site, the number is 16.8%.


  3. (Institute for Research on Poverty at University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  5. (Haverhill Information)

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.