This information came across my desk recently from the RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) organization, a cause which I believe in and support financially. The flyer deals with “America’s Literary Crisis,” and the statistics that appear are alarming. Did you know that 65% of 4th graders in the US read below grade level? 34% of children entering school lack the basic language skills needed to learn how to read? Only 37% of students who graduate from high school can read at or above proficiency levels? 43% of American adults are functionally illiterate? 93 million adults in the US read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully to society?
As the Foundation points out, “If we don’t act now, children from disadvantaged communities will always be at risk and future generations will continue to be impacted.” This is why each of us needs to support children’s literacy. At RIF…
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Benjamin Alire Saenz, a Pen Faulkner award winner, has written a tender, sensitive, honest, beautiful YA novel in Aristotle and Dante. The main characters, both fifteen, “clicked” from their very first meeting and frequently made each other laugh for no reason. Moments of anger and miscommunication came later, as did questions of identity and sexuality. Together they explore the purpose of one’s life and one’s reason for being.
Ari is big and brawny, very handsome, although he is not aware of it and does not “feel handsome.” Dante is small and beautiful, delicate, and very sensitive. Ari closely guards his emotions where Dante expresses them freely. Both boys are highly intelligent and can discuss everything from comics to “real literature.”
The novel is “gorgeously written” and excels in drawing two complex but totally believable characters in the boys, and realistic, loving parents. Saenz explores the themes of family, friendship…
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I sit with her
Placing her in memory
Giving thoughts strength, yet
In her silence, she frightens me.
I rely on others
Camping upon her shore
To soothe my worry.
And although I haven’t
Seen her rimmed with snow
Echoing the clearest of nights,
Pitted with raindrops
Upon her clear face,
Witnessed her held tight
By mist and clouds,
I know she has experienced this.
She reflects me
Placing me inside her memory
Giving strength to her beauty, yet
In my silence, I frighten her.
She relies on the stream
And springs to ease her.
And although she hasn’t seen
All who I love, have loved,
My stumbles and woes
On nights of anxiety,
My elations and successes,
The clatter of the city
Reverberate within me
She knows I have experienced this.
ZZ Packer’s 2003 publication, a collection of short stories, is as important and enlightening today as the year it was published. It makes a good pick-up-and-put-down read as do most short story collections, but it has a quality about the writing that makes it special. In many of the stories “That Old-time Religion,” beloved by many of our grandparents and beloved still in many predominately African-American churches is presented through the author’s beautiful story-telling style. As Alex Hailey expressed in a quote from Roots, included in the book,
“Join me in the hope that this story of our people can help to alleviate the legacies of the fact that preponderately the histories have been written by the winners.” The people in Packer’s stories are not losers; they are the over-commers. Some stories end happily, some sadly, but all are dealing with awakenings and the power they have over the individual…
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