Author Feature-Benjamin Alire Saenz

 


Spirit of Texas Reading Program

High School

Featured Author

Benjamin Alire Saenz

Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. He is the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the American Book Award for his books for adults. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz Honor Book, the Stonewall Award winner, the Pura Belpre Award winner, the Lambda Literary Award winner, and a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso. 

 

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Publisher's Website


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Book Trailer

 


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Book Discussion Questions
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 

Printable Copy

(from Simon & Schuster)

Do people always have to understand the people they love? Why or why not?

What characteristics are most admirable in a close friend?

Ari Mendoza is one of four children. His older siblings no longer live at home. Describe his relationship with his siblings. Why does he feel like the family mascot?

How does Ari meet Dante? Compare and contrast their personalities.

Why do Ari and Dante become friends? What personality traits does Ari most admire in Dante and why?

Does Ari have a close relationship with his parents? How does his relationship with his mother differ from his relationship with his father?

(from Unleashing Readers)

Aristotle and Dante love to make up stories about people on the bus. Go and sit outside where you can people watch and write short stories about a handful of them.

What does it mean to be alone? Can another person cure loneliness, or is it something that must be healed from within?

What makes a good friend? What makes a good person?

How do your family dynamics influence who you are as a person?

(from ReadOn Wisconsin)

Ari considers himself a loner and is surprised by how much he enjoys spending time with Dante. Why do you think the two boys get along so well?

How does the secret about Ari's brother affect Ari and his family?

 This book is set in the late 1980s. What can you point to that makes it feel different form today in terms of attitudes toward being gay? Are there things that seem the same?


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Academic Program
Overcoming Hate 

Printable Copy

Introduction

This program will provides three ways to educate teens about hate crimes, historical and modern, as well as encourage teens to develop awareness of these events and strategies to overcome attitudes of hate in themselves, their peers and their communities.

The first program will be a presentation, and students, working in groups, will research and present on one of the major historical groups who have been the victims of hate crimes. The second program will be a written journal kept for one month in which students will record thoughts and observations about themselves, their peers and their community, which might be stereotypical intolerant towards another group or person. For the third program students (ideally those who have completed the journaling assignment) will participate in a group discussion about the intolerant behavior they observed and use their critical thinking skills to brainstorm strategies to overcome their biases or others towards the groups they identified.

Books to Display or Book Talk

  • The Sin Eater's Confession by Ilsa Bick
  • Broyles, Janell. Hate Crimes by Janell Broyles
  • Fade to Black by Alex Flinn
  • Hate Crimes: Causes, Controls, and Controversies and Bystanders by Phyllis Gerstenfeld
  • Bullying Under Attack: True Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies by Stephanie Meyer
  • Shine by Lauren Myracle
  •  Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
  • October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman
  • Winger by Andrew Smith
  • The Anti-defamation League's Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice by Caryl Stern-LaRosa & Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann

Activity #1 - Journaling Project

Individual writing project where students will keep a journal for one month. During that time, students will capture any thoughts they have, or things they witness in the world around them (peers, adults, media, etc.) which show intolerance towards any particular group. During this process, students should also reflect on how and why these biases seem to be occurring, and if they have any ideas for ways to combat these biases in themselves and others.

List of Supplies

  • Depending on teacher preference, students can journal in comp books or maintain an electronic journal or blog.
  • Access to copies (digital or print) of images that will help convey students' experience through inclusion in their journals
  • Style guide for journaling 

Incentive

Extra credit for students taking documentable action to combat things they have witnessed, such as writing a comment or letter to a news outlet challenging intolerance in a particular story.

Description of Activity #1

For a period of one month, students will maintain a journal which focuses on the theme of intolerance. This can be intolerance towards others, or towards yourself; it can be observed, experienced, or perpetuated. During this period, students will capture their thoughts on the intolerance observed in the world around them, as well as reflect on possible motivation behind these are occurrences. Students should consider what may be motivating these behaviors or feelings. If students have ideas for ways to combat these biases in themselves and others, they should explore those in this journal.

Incentives

Possibility of extra credit points for students taking documentable action to combat injustice, such as a copy of a letter or post on a news outlet page, challenging bias or intolerance.

TEKS

  • English 1 – 12, 17, 18, 19, 21b, 24
  • English 2 – 12, 17, 18, 19, 21b, 24
  • English 3 – 12a, 12c, 12d, 17, 18, 19, 21b, 24
  • English 4 – 12a, 12c, 12d, 17, 18, 19, 21b, 24

Activity #2 - Group Presentation

Group Presentation where students will present on one of the major groups who have been victims of hate crimes.

List of Supplies

  • PowerPoint, Open Office, Pages, or other presentation software
  • Projector and screen
  • Access to historical databases, including encyclopedias, primary source material, image and film databases
  • Access to books and journals on hate crimes, persecuted groups, and laws protecting these groups
  • Access to citation manuals, to ensure proper citation of all resources used in presentation
  • Web access to active groups (taskforces, nonprofits, etc.) who work to protect and defend these groups

Description of Activity #2

Begin by dividing the class into groups of four students. Each group should be assigned one of the groups who has, historically, been the victim of hate crimes. Student groups can be assigned a specific group [African Americans, LGBTQIA Individuals, individuals with Disabilities, etc.] or one of the "bias motivation categories" [racial, religious belief, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, disability]. Students should be provided with a project sheet which outlines the major components of their presentation as well as some recommended sources to get jump start research. (A sample document is provided in the resources below, but research sources will need to be customized to match the resources your students can access.)

Allow students four weeks to research and complete their presentation. Each group should be required to submit a weekly one page summary of their progress. These weekly summaries should include any stumbling blocks students have encountered in their research, as well as ideas for how to overcome those hurdles.

Presentations should be 15 minutes in length and should contain the following:

The list below should be bulleted or numbered.

Information about the selected group or bias motivation category.

A summary of crimes against the group with one or two specific case examples.

A report of the status of the group today and whether hate crimes against this group are still a problem.

A report of any groups or laws that have been enacted to protect the rights and safety of that group.

Images and media to help strengthen the presentation.

Once groups have completed their presentations, schedule 1-2 presentations per class until all groups have had a chance to present. Leave at least 15 minutes at the end of each class to allow time for questions and class discussion of the presentations. Students should evaluate each other on their presentations, using the supplied worksheet. Evaluations should focus on style, accuracy, structure, completeness, and insight.

TEKS

  • English 1 – 8, 9b, 9c, 12, 13, 15d, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26
  • English 2 – 8, 9d, 12, 13, 15d, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26
  • English 3 – 8, 9d, 12, 13, 15d, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26
  • English 4 – 8, 9d, 12, 13, 15d, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26
  • United States History Studies Since 1877 – 6a, 11b, 29, 30, 32
  • World History Studies – 9, 10, 25, 29e, 29f, 30, 31
  • United States Government – 17a, 17b, 20a, 20d, 21d, 22
  • Sociology – 5, 11, 19a, 19b, 20b, 20c, 20d, 21

Activity #3 – Large Group Discussion

Group discussion project where students will explore the topic of intolerance - in the world at large and in their own community.

List of Supplies

Description of Activity #3

The goal of the discussion will be to brainstorm concrete ideas and strategies to overcome intolerance in their communities. Teachers have the option of spending an entire class period on the discussion, or watching a video for the first part of class, and concluding with a discussion during the second part of the period.

Teacher should start by laying ground rules for discussion the day prior to the actual class discussion. At the beginning of the class in which the discussion will occur, have each student complete a self-assessment identifying their multicultural selves. (See the example worksheet taken from Teaching Tolerance's My Multicultural Self exercise.)

When everyone has finished their self-assessment, divide students into small groups and have them share their worksheets with their peers. Ask the small groups to reflect on how each individual identity colors and shapes the way they view and interact with the world.

Moving back into the larger group, ask students to reflect on how they would react if one of their identity bubbles were ignored or persecuted in some way by an individual, a group or a government. Begin an idea generating discussion of different groups who have experienced this sort of intolerance - write these groups on the board to keep them in the minds of students as the discussion proceeds. Next, ask students to theorize about why intolerance happens and transition into a brainstorming session of how to combat each of these reasons.

Conclude by compiling concrete actions and "next steps" for combating intolerance.

Have students complete a written assessment of the discussion, including what they learned and whether the discussion will change any of their actions moving forward.

Incentives

Extra credit for those who want to pursue any of the resulting "next steps" generated by the discussion.

Resources for Teens

  • Hate Crimes by Janell Boryles
  • The Anti-defamation League's Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice by Caryl Stern-LaRosa & Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann
  • Hate Crimes: Causes, Controls, and Controversies by Phyllis Gerstenfeld
  • Bullying Under Attack: True Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies, and Bystanders by Stephanie Meyer

Professional Resources for Librarians

  • Hate Crimes by Janell Boryles
  • The Anti-defamation League's Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice by Caryl Stern-LaRosa & Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann
  • Hate Crimes: Causes, Controls, and Controversies by Phyllis Gerstenfeld
  • Bullying Under Attack: True Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies, and Bystanders by Stephanie Meyer

TEKS

  • English 1 – 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26
  • English 2 – 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26
  • English 3 – 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26
  • English 4 – 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26
  • United States History Studies Since 1877 – 6a, 11b, 29, 30, 32
  • World History Studies – 9, 10, 25, 29e, 29f, 30, 31
  • United States Government – 17a, 17b, 20a, 20d, 21d, 22
  • Sociology – 5, 11, 19a, 19b, 20b, 20c, 20d, 21


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Active Program

Self-Discovery through Art & Prose

Printable Copy

Introduction

In Sáenz's novel, Ari and Dante are on a journey of self-discovery, learning who they are and what their place is in the world. Art and literature are also important components of the novel, aiding Ari and Dante during their search for "the secrets of the universe." In this program, teens will combine art and the written word as one of many paths to self-discovery.

Books to Display or Book Talk

FICTION

  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
  • Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
  • Hold Still by Nina LaCour
  • Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

NONFICTION

  • 500 Self-Portraits by Julian Bell
  • Self-Portrait Photography: The Ultimate in Personal Expression by Natalie Dybisz
  • Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure by Rachel Fershleiser & Larry Smith
  • Selfies: Self-Portrait Photography with Attitude by Haje Jan Kamps
  • Mixed-Media Self Portraits: Inspiration and Techniques by Cate Coulacos Prato

Activity #1: Get Inside Your Selfies

List of Supplies

  • Cardstock or high quality paper
  • Pencils, paints & paintbrushes, etc.
  • Scissors
  • Craft glue or Mod Podge
  • Old magazines and newspapers

Description of Activity

This activity invites teens to express how they truly see themselves in art form. Begin by asking teens to spend a few minutes picturing how they view themselves, particularly considering the physical and emotional selves, as well as their heritage. Give each teen a piece of cardstock and access to art supplies so that they can draw their own self-portrait. Literal and abstract portraits are encouraged. Teens who do not wish to draw may use pictures from magazines to create a collage self-portrait.

When teens have completed the image part of their portrait, have them pick out text (single letters, words, or phrases) from the provided magazines and newspapers that they feel describe them as depicted in their self-portrait. Using craft glue or Mod Podge, have teens creatively place text on their self-portraits.

Alternatively, have computers or tablets available for teens who would rather edit their self-portrait digitally. Have teens take a selfie, then use free photo editing websites like PicMonkey, or apps like Pixlr-o-matic to alter their image.

Allow time at the end of the program for teens to display their self-portraits and, if desired, share the emotions they were trying to convey. Consider displaying the portraits in your library.

Example of Digital Selfie

Activity #2: Thumbprint Memoir

List of Supplies

  • Ink pad
  • Paper
  • Photocopier
  • Pens in multiple colors

Description of Activity #2

Begin by having teens take their thumbprint using the provided ink pad and paper. Enlarge each thumbprint to full size (8 ½ x 11) on a photocopier, then have the teens trace over the lines and whorls of their thumbprint with a dark marker. Encourage teens to write a few sentences about a moment, an encounter or a realization that has helped them define who they are. Layer a blank piece of paper over the original sheet and, using the lines and whorls of their thumbprint as a guide, have teens write their story on their fingerprint. Allow time at the end of the program for teens to display their thumbprint memoirs and, if desired, share their story.

Thumbprint Memoir Sample

Resources for Teens

WEBSITES

Professional Resources for Librarian and Teacher

WEBSITES

Flyers/Templates/Etc.


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Passive Program
Homosexuality in America: A Historical Timeline of Equality 

Printable Copy

Introduction

The purpose of this display is to provide teens with an overview of the historical and continuing struggle for LGBTQ equality in the United States. It is hoped that this timeline will give teens historical context for Aristotle and Dante's thoughts and actions in Sáenz's novel. It is also intended to increase awareness of the current discussions and struggles concerning equality in the United States.

Books to Display or Book Talk

FICTION

  • I am J by Cris Beam
  • Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
  • Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
  • Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan
  • Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
  • Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
  • Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
  • October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman

NONFICTION

  • Gay America: The Struggle for Equality by Linas Alsenas
  • A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski, 2011
  • Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution by Linda Hirshman, 2012

List of Supplies

  • Butcher paper
  • Scissors, staples, etc.
  • Pictures and information from the resources listed

Description of Activity

A static display that will provide a historical timeline of LGBTQ equality in the United States. It should also spotlight LGBTQ fiction and nonfiction titles.

Resources for Teens

WEBSITES

Professional Resources for Librarian and Teacher

WEBSITES

 

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Created on Mar 31, 2014 | Last updated July 15, 2015