Monday, August 12, 2013

Love is the Secret: It's Monday What Are You Reading?

There is so much I loved about Saenz's, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It's a story about friendship and family and coming of age and love. It's also a story about coming to terms with others and yourself, being honest and living your truth in ways that are uniquely difficult for teenage boys discovering their sexuality. I borrowed the book from the library, so I marked pages I wanted to come back to to gather scenes, sentences or possible read alouds. The book surprised me again and again with scenes full of  poetry and art and exercise and recovery.   I tried to be good and use sticky flags, but  I can see now that  I did bend a page corner or two.

I am planning to talk up the book next week as soon as I purchase a copy or two for my classroom library. I want to read this snippet to get students writing about their own views of themselves as readers. Listen in as Aristotle thinks about reading, his father and Dante:
"The truth is, I'd lied to him. I loved the book. I thought it was the most beautiful think I'd ever read. When my father noticed what I was reading, he told me it was one of his favorite books. I wanted to ask him if he'd read it before or after he'd fought in Vietnam. It was no good to ask my father questions. He never answered them.
 I had this idea that Dante read because he liked to read. Me, I read because I didn't have anything else to do. He analyzed things. I just read them. I have a feeling I had to look up more words in the dictionary than he did (20)."

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book to read with a box of tissues by your side. Forewarned is forearmed. I cried and cried, not because it was said (it was in parts) but because it was beautiful and the characters true.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Shelia at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers give the Meme a kid lit spin. I encourage you to visit others participating. Keep a notepad handy or a window with your Amazon wish list open; you'll find lots of great titles to read.

I'm a little behind the times when it comes to catching up on award finalists. Endangered was the final title of the Amelia Awards I hadn't read. I am glad I found it. Another tissue box companion book, Schrefer's  recounts war in the Congo and an American teenager's survival story. Sophie is enroute to her mother when she buys a Bonobo from a man on the street. Thinking she did the right thing, her decision to purchase the animal she names Otto changes the course of her life. 
Schrefer builds tension page by page with contrast. This scene where Sophie and Otto, who has recovered his health after a few weeks with Sophie, are out walking is the first sighting Sophie has of war approaching.
 "He'd become really good on his feet. Or off his feet, I guess, I should say. Otto was still and unsteady walker, staggering a stretch and then holding my hand for a second before getting up the courage to toddle farther. But when he was near a tree--or a drainpipe, or a car, or (as I learned the hard way) a wobbly filing cabinet--he would suddenly be up in the air. My idea of space was limited left, right, front, and behind, but he had a wonder sense of up. He's disappear from my hands, and I'd look around for him getting panicked, until I'd hear a telltale raspy laugh and find him dangling from a ceiling fan, revolving on one of the blades...
I loved video chatting with Dad, but otherwise my social life was pretty narrow. That's why Otto and I were on our own when we met the strangers. We were taking a walk along the sanctuary's overgrown driveway...well, I was walking, and Otto followed me along the treetops, calling down to me, amused that I would be so silly as to choose the groung when there were thrilling branches t oswing from. He would go for minutes through the jungle canopy, then come across something scared him--a snake under his fingers, a snapping branch, a songbird flying in his face--and he'd be in my arms. Then he was back into the trees again.
The sanctuary was far from any major road, so I was shocked when I turned a corner and saw four guys trudging up the driveway toward us. Two of them had mangy-looking dreadlocks. All wore mismatched army uniforms.
I backed up, my body tensed. My skin felt like rubber.
One of them held up his hand. "Zila, mundele. Don't run. We're lost, and we need you to guide us (50)." 
I could use this scene for many lessons. I love the idea of support and reassurance at the start. How Sophie lets Otto find his way but stays near to calm him and reassure him when he gets scared. Sophie's body language, especially the penultimate sentence, would be interesting to study and them imitate as a way to develop character in narrative. Surely we could speak and write from the richness of this text.

So many books, so little time to write about them! I'm going to leave the remaining few from the past few weeks as images only. I may come back to say more about them next week. If there's a particular title that you'd like to hear more about, let me know in comments and I'll come back to it.

Recent Reads

My favorite professional book read of late is Calkins, Ehrenworth and Lehman's Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement. I agree with Stacey Shubitz about Pathways to the Common Core. "It's a book every teacher in America should read." Clear, concise, contextualized discussion of the changes we will see as we implement Common Core Standards. Read Shubitz's assessment at Two Writing Teachers here.

Up Next 


  1. I loved Endangered and have already passed it on to another teacher of our older students (6-8) & am now starting Dante... Thanks for the review, so many have said they love it, so I should get reading! Hope you love The True Diary... I think it's great, have read it & then again with a book group-much to discuss in it as well. Thanks Lee Ann!

  2. I hope you fall in love with Aristotle and Dante. Such hope in that story. The True Diary will be a re-read for me. It is our One Book One Community summer title for tenth graders. I want to read it with new eyes before the kids come back to school next week to prepare. I love Alexie's voice.