Here I am, on my third book in my 50 Middle Grade books challenge. Dang, I’m a slow reader. I’m thrilled to finally have had the chance to read The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez. I’ve been dying to read this since forever, but was happily bogged down with Stonewall contenders. This title is just gosh-darn delightful, and with starred reviews in School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and a Pura Belpré Author Honor to boot, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Don’t let this book’s delightfulness fool you into thinking it’s just fluff: It’s chock-full of thoughtful commentary on identity. Our protagonist, Malú, is constantly at odds with her mother (the “SuperMexican”) and bullyish classmate, Selena, over what it means to be “una señorita“. While Selena is a superstar when it comes to traditional Mexican dance and speaks Spanish confidently and fluently, Malú shows up to school in too much black eyeliner, hates cilantro, spicy food and meat, dresses in band shirts and jeans, and gets nervous when she has to speak Spanish. She never feels like she’ll be Mexican enough to please her mother.
The First Rule of Punk is a real feel-good title and if you haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, here’s a peek at what’s sure to make you smile:
♡Malú’s cheerful, hilarious, and often informative zines, complete with directions on how to dye your hair green, instructions on how to make an ofrenda, a history of The Mexican Farm Supply Program, and information about Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Malú’s namesake, María Luisa Block.
♡Places you wish you could visit in real life: Spins & Needles Records, owned by Malú’s dad, and Calaca Coffee, full of pan dulce, Day of the Dead decorations, soyrizo breakfast tacos, and 80s punk band album covers lining the walls.
♡Playlist inspiration through passages on Poly Styrene, Alice Bag, the Plugz, the Brat, and Lola Beltrán (be sure to Google her image so you can get a good look at those “long spider-leg eyelashes”)
♡Morrissey being an “honorary Mexican”
♡Señora Oralia’s fluffy lady toilet paper covers
♡Malú and her friends starting a band with little-to-no musical experience
♡Literally everything about Mrs. Hidalgo, the best Middle Grade lit mom of all time, who compares identity to a patchwork quilt: “Some pieces are prettier than others. Some pieces match and some don’t. But if you remove a square, you’re just left with an incomplete quilt, and who wants that? All our pieces are equally important if they make us whole. Even the weird ones.”
I feel like students at my school get a little intimidated by lengthy titles, so I’ll be sure to open the book for them to show them all the zine inserts. Hopefully, all of the appealing visuals will make the book’s size less daunting. Speaking of which, for my next title, I’m going for a much shorter title with a lower reading level. I’m less than a year into my work at this new school, and I’m realizing that there’s a larger range of reading levels here than at my last school. Sure, we have kids who read books like Echo and the Harry Potter Series, but I want this reading challenge to help me reach students reading on the other end of the spectrum.
Hey, if you’ve read this far along, consider signing this petition to save Atlanta’s school librarians. What’ve you got to lose? Nothing.