The First Rule of Punk

I am the mother of a tween.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a tween is defined as:

  1. Between
  2. Preteen

As I reflect on my  current  state of motherhood as mama to my nearly 12- year-old Emma, the word that resonates  with me is surreal.  How did my first born suddenly transform into an almost teenager?  She’s  as tall as I am, and, we have been sharing shoes for the past six months.  Equally as boggling is the idea that I am the mother of an almost teen!  While I celebrated my 40th birthday this year, my internal identity is at a constant 28-years -old, the age I was when Emma was born.  When I was in my early twenties, and envisioned motherhood, I often saw myself as the mother of a baby, or a toddler, or an eight-year-old, yet I rarely thought about mothering a teen.  Hence, my present day-to-day with a tween in the house has a dream like quality to it.  Emma will graduate from primary school this year, she’s desperate to dye the points of her silky blond hair blue, her favorite past-time is filming herself or her sister performing remakes of songs by artists I’ve never heard of.

And yet, she continues to hold onto the fringes of her childhood innocence.  She enjoys having a snack after school prepared by mom, she is totally  oblivious to her own beauty and she still solicits cuddles before falling asleep at night.

Luckily for us both, my tween hasn’t given up our ritual of bedtime stories.   While we are no longer reading Beatrix Potter and Eric Carle,  we do take delight in loosing ourselves in the pages of great novels read aloud before the lights are turned off.

We both relished The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez which just happens to highlight 12 -year -old Malu, in the midst of tween life.  Emma loved the voice of Malú, one of curiosity, authenticity and sensitivity.  As a mother, I appreciated reading a story with a confident girl  main character to my daughter.

Regional/Cultural focus:  The United States with attention to latino culture

Author:  Celia C. Pérez

Genre:  juvenile fiction

Twelve year old Maria Luisa (Malú) is beginning the school year in a new city.  She’s not happy about the changes on the horizon, and  she’s only mildly open-minded about attending a different school.  Her father, who hasn’t made the move to Chicago with Malu and her mother, owns a record shop a thousand miles away.  He and Malú share a deep love for music, especially rock.  He reminds his daughter that the first rule of punk is, “always be yourself.”

Taking this message to heart, Malú embraces the challenges of being “the new student” at a delicate age.  The reader discovers that Malú is fiercely independent, funny, empathetic, and a little rebellious.  She loves designing zines, practicing music with her band, The Co-Cos, and skateboarding.  As the novel progresses, we journey with Malú through her tween days, as she finds her  voice (both literally and figuratively)  and claims her own unique identity.

What I love:

  • The zines that are woven through The First Rule of Punk are engaging, fun and innovative.
  • Malú is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary spirit.  She is a positive and real role model for tweens.
  • Pérez incorporates Mexican-American culture and history into Malu’s story.  We learn of Lola Beltran, a celebrated Mexican singer and explore cultural celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos.

Discussion:

  • What kind of music do you like?  Do you have a favorite band? What genre of music speaks to you?  Why?
  • Malú uses zines as a way to express herself.  How do you express yourself?
  • Do you ever feel that the rules are your school are unfair?  Why?

Activities:

  • Create you own zine.  Find ideas here.
  • Look at different altars made for Dia de los Muertos.  Arrange your own altar to remember and honor friends, family and pets who have passed away.  17d19b78c3dca98f2f152dc17f0fa922
  • Investigate Lola Beltran and learn more about her life.

Before We Were Free

Every other Sunday morning, I reunite with 7 junior high students at the neighborhood school in Santiago Atitlan.  I could write an entire essay about how these seven students are exceptional, pushing the boundaries of social and cultural norms, dreaming big, and vibrantly confident, but that would be a post for a different blog on young,  emerging leaders in rural Guatemala.

The teen reading group has been meeting for two years now, and the participants self selected  themselves to meet twice monthly and use books as a tool to explore culture, current events, history,  literature and their own personal stories via books.

Recently we finished reading Before We Were Free, by Julia Alvarez and I was impressed and inspired, yet not surprised by the conversation generated by our circle.

Guatemala’s current President, Jimmy Morales, who has been in office for 1.5 years, has recently been under scrutiny by national and international organizations.   Just three years ago, former President Otto Perez resigned after national protests and he was subsequently arrested.  He was accused of fraud.

Hence, when a group of teens is encouraged to explore the theme of freedom, especially in the light of corruption, conversation becomes thought provoking, genuine and real.  As we compared the current stories of Guatemalans to those living in Alvarez’ book in The Dominican Republic under Trujillo’s dictatorship in the 5o’s and 6o’s  we we able to identify similarities and differences.  Most intriguing was our conversation about civil disobedience…when do we feel compelled to break rules in order to obtain personal freedom or the freedom of a group of people?

I do not know how the next weeks will transpire in Guatemala.  There is talk of planned protests and social media is overloaded with criticism of the current state of affairs.  However, I do know that the 7 teens in our reading circle are confident, critical thinkers, and leaders who, even at a young age, are capable of generating ideas about what’s just, on a personal and political level.  They are also aware of the power of their own voices, and sometimes, during periods of conflict, our voices  become the strongest resistance.

Regional focus:  The Dominican Republic

Author:  Julia Alverez

Genre:  juvenile historical fiction

In Before We Were Free, we meet 12 year old Anita de Torre in the year 1960, in the Dominican Republic.  We quickly learn that many of Anita’s extended family members have emigrated to the United States and that her Uncle Toni has been missing for some time after displaying opposition to the dictatorship of Trujillo.  Through the eyes of a young girl, we witness the fear, hope and struggles that are a constant presence for those living through a time of political unrest, all the while confronting the day to day of adolescence.

What I love:

  • Alvarez educates the reader about the history of the Dominican Republic, the Trujillo Dictatorship and Las Mariposas.
  • Before We Were Free is a true “coming of age story.”
  • Before We Were Free is less intense than Alvarez’s adult novels such as In the Time of The Butterflies, but equally as impactful.
  • What’s not to love about a strong, young, curious, female main character!

Themes: freedom, adolescence, war

Discussion:

  • In your own words, describe freedom.  How do you know that you are free?  Or lacking freedom?
  • Throughout the book,  Anita keeps a diary where she can record her thoughts, when she unable to speak them.  Do you keep a diary?  Why or why  not?
  • Can you remember a time in history or currently when a group of people or an individual has fought for freedom?  When? Why?  Where?  What happened?

Connections:

  • Research a recipe from the Dominican Republic such as Tostones (fried plantains) and prepare them for your friends and family.photo-1
  • In Before We Were Free, we learn that the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961,  was ruled by dictatorship, or a government in which  power is controlled by one person or a small group of people.  What kind of government exists in your country?  Explain how the government of your country functions.
  • In the book, Anita refers to “The Butterflies/Las Mariposas.”  Investigate and learn about the Butterfly Sisters and the important roles they played in the history of the Dominican Republic.28d0b5fa2cd600a0c24eb27f03710b61

 

Number the Stars

Lois Lowry is one of my favorite authors in the genre of young adult literature.  Surprisingly, I only discovered her writing as an almost 40 year old.  If you haven’t read The Giver, I suggest that you add the title to your summer reading list.  Lowry has a gift for writing stories that are both profound and approachable for her audience.  

I was overjoyed when my 11-year-old daughter, Emma, was assigned to read Number the Stars with her 5th grade class.  Emma and I don’t always agree on the same books, but we both found ourselves looking forward to our evening ritual of reading this story to each other.  

Regional focus:  Denmark

Author:  Lois Lowry

Genre:  juvenile historical fiction

In Number the Stars we travel in time to 1943, Denmark, where we meet the Johansen family and the Rosen family.  The two families share many similarities.  The mothers are companions and often drink afternoon tea together, the families live in the same apartment building and ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and 10-year-old Ellen Rosen are best friends and classmates.  As the  antisemitism of World War II spreads through Europe,  the Rosen family is targeted by the Nazi’s.  When Mr. Rosen suspects that his family will be “relocated,” The Johansen’s quickly receive Ellen as one of their own.

Throughout the story, the reader continues to meet characters who demonstrate bravery and courage.  We are confronted with asking ourselves, “what would I do?”

More than a story of individual courage displayed by Annemarie, we learn of the courage of a country.  We discover that during the war, the resistance movement in Denmark was successful in smuggling nearly their entire Jewish population, some 7,000 people, across the sea to Sweden.

What I love:

  • Lowry educates us about the history of World War II while creating personal connections with main characters.
  • A story that highlights everyday heroes.
  • Number the Stars reminds us of “the power of one.”

Themes: bravery, courage, empathy, war, memory, hope, friendship

Discussion:

  • How  is friendship displayed between Ellen and Annemarie?
  • What are a few acts of bravery and courage that are identified in the book?
  • Remember a time when you had to be courageous and stand up for somebody else.  What happened?
  • Throughout the story, different characters tell lies to protect the lives of others.  Generally we are taught that lying is dishonest.  Do you believe this is always the case?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • In Number the Stars we learn that many Jews are forced to immigrate or become refuges in new countries.  Investigate groups of people who are currently facing similar circumstances.  Who are they?  Why are they unable to stay in their country of origin?  Where are they fleeing to?
  • Make a new book cover for Number the Stars.    What important elements or symbols would you include in the cover art?
  • Imagine that you are living during a time of war when every day products are hard to purchase.  We learn that coffee, shoes and tobacco are difficult to purchase in Annemarie’s town during the war. Make a list of every day items that you would miss if you lived in a time of rationing.
  • If you were able to invite a character from Number the Stars to your house for lunch, who would you choose?  Make a list of questions that you’d like to ask the invitee.

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Island of the Blue Dolphins

*Book cover illustration by Lucia Calfapietra and lettering by Nicolò Giacomin.

As a child, I loved the solitude of my school library.  I was quiet and dreamy, and preferred the cool calmness to the library over the loud games of the playground.  When I was in 4th grade, Mrs. Bingum, our school librarian recommended Island of the Blue Dolphins for me to read.  While four-square tournaments were in full swing on the asphalt, I was lost in the story of Karana, a young Native American girl, not much older than myself , learning to survive alone on an island not far from where I lived.  I recently reread Island of the Blue Dolphins with a teen reading circle, and was quickly enamored for the second time with Karana’s story.  

Regional focus:  North America

Author:  Scott O’Dell

Genre:  juvenile historical -fiction

Travel back in time to the early 1800s and meet 12-year-old Karana, a native of an island off the coast of California who is unexpectedly left behind, alone, when her tribe is forced to flee. Karana lives in solitude on the island for 18 years, and writes of her experience of survival.

.What I love:

  • I read Island of the Blue Dolphins as a child! 30 years later, I continue to love the book.
  • A true story of courage and adventure of the spirit.
  • The newest edition includes a powerful introduction by Lois Lowry, Newberry Medalist and author of The Giver.

Themes: survival, resilience, courage, coming of age

Discussion:

  • How do we know that Karana is resourceful and resilient?
  • In the story, Karana becomes good friends with a dog. Are there animals in your life that provide you with friendship and company?
  • If you were Karana, would you have returned to the island to save your brother? Why or why not?
  • What do you think that Karana thought of the man who rescued her after living on the island alone for many years?
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins has won many awards. Why do you think it is a celebrated book?

Connections:

  • Island of The Blue Dolphins is a story of historical fiction. Investigate the true story of Karana.
  • Make a map of Karana’s island.
  • Investigate wild plants in your neighborhood that you can eat.
  • Write your own survival story, fiction or nonfiction.

 

 

Caminar

Regional focus:  Guatemala

Author:  Skila Browne

Genre:  juvenile fiction/ prose

Travel to rural Guatemala in 1981 and meet young Carlos who asks the innocent questions about war and conflict as he strives to understand the underlying currents that are dividing his village and country.

What I love:

  • Browne creates an approachable novel for juvenile readers and uses flowing prose to share her story.
  • A coming of age story that teens can connect with.

Themes: responsibility, maturity, survival, loss, war

Discussion:

  • What do you know about war? What does war look like to you?
  • What animal represents Carlos’ nawhal (animal spirit)? What animal would you like to have as your nawhal?
  • Have you ever wished that you were “grown up”? Why?

Connections:

  • Investigate the country of Guatemala and the Maya culture.
  • Write a poem about your own home as Carlos did in his poem “My home.”
  • Santiago Luc is a storyteller in his village. Do you know someone in your life that has stories to tell? Interview the person and write down one of the stories you’re told.

 

 

 

The Only Road

 

Regional focus:  Guatemala

Author:  Alexandra Diaz

Genre:  juvenile fiction

Twelve-year-old Jaime makes the treacherous and life-changing journey from his home in Guatemala to live with his older brother in the United States. When Jaime’s cousin Miguel is murdered in gang violence, his family fears that he will be next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Angela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico. Inspired by true events, The Only Road is an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life.

What I love:

  • An honest story, made to be “heard” by a younger audience.
  • Moments of kindness, generosity and friendship are found even in extreme hardship.
  • The reader quickly connects and identifies with many of the characters in the story.

Themes:  immigration, courage, survival, hardship

Discussion:

  • What do Jaime and Angela take with them in their backpacks? If you had to leave your home with nothing but a backpack, what would you bring with you?
  • Describe the role that art plays in Jaime’s life. How does art help him survive the journey to United States? Do you have something in your life that is similar to Jaime’s love of art?
  • On Jaime and Angela’s journey, they meet many people who are trying to immigrate to the United States. What are some of the reasons that people have for leaving their homes and risking the dangerous journey across the border?
  • Jaime and Angela meet several people who help them along their journey. Describe the individuals who help them. What do you think motivates each of their helpers?

Connections:

  • Using the novel as a guide, create a map of Jaime and Angela’s journey.
  • On Jaime and Angela’s journey they meet people from other Latin American countries, like El Salvador and Mexico. The parents of author Alexandra Diaz immigrated from Cuba. Choose a Latin American country to research and prepare a report about the culture, geography, government, and history of the country you chose.
  • Jaime’s love and talent for art is a source of solace and survival. He shares a last name with the famous Latin American artist, Diego Rivera. Research the art of Rivera and/or his wife Frida Kahlo. What are your favorite things about their art? Try to create your own art in the style of either artist.