BOOK CLUB KIT: The First Rule of Punk

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

Anti-Bias Book Kit- 1
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The First Rule of Punk is an enjoyable story centered on Malú, a young Mexican-American girl, and her path towards ownership of a multicultural identity. The following

  1. book review (using an anti-bias lens)

  2. discussion questions (for running your own book club)

  3. supplementary suggested reading (to extend the learning)

has been thoroughly constructed as the result of a bi-weekly book club through the efforts of three university students partaking in a course focused on social justice in K-12 educational settings.

Throughout this story, the process of exploring, testing, and subsequently taking ownership of intersectional identities is constantly in action. During our time spent with The First Rule of Punk, we shared our own social identity classes to help ourselves understand and connect with one another as we discussed the various aspects of the book. We recognized through our various conversations, just as Malú does, that our families and histories construct a basis for many of our social identities, and we are able to share memberships with numerous social groups despite our differences. Through the numerous discussion questions that span several sections of the book, we hope to spur self-reflection that creates an environment of sharing and empathetic relationships.

The First Rule of Punk: A Review

Overall Rating: Recommended

The First Rule of Punk, a story centered around Maria Luisa, a half Mexican, half white, preteen, and her move to Chicago, was authored by Celia C. Pérez, a Chicago resident and daughter of her Cuban father and her Mexican mother.

The First Rule of Punk is told through the perspective of Maria Luisa O’Neill-Morales, or, as she prefers to be called, Malú. Malú has a complicated relationship with her divorced parents. She loves both of her parents, but she shares a strong relationship with her white father founded upon their love of punk music and punk culture.

Furthermore, she struggles to relate to her very traditional Mexican mother whom she calls “Super Mexican”. The story begins with Malú preparing to move to Chicago with her mother, leaving her father behind one-thousand miles away in Florida. Faced with the fears of entering a new school, Malú’s father reminds her of the first rule of punk, “Be yourself”. Throughout this story, a tug-of-war develops between Malú’s perception of what it means to be punk and what it means to be Mexican. This, “first rule of punk,” primes Malú for her journey that allows her to discover, accept, and take ownership of her diverse and complex identity.

Shortly after arriving at Posada Middle School in Chicago, Malú is confronted by her antithesis in Selena. Selena bullies Malú and excels in every traditional aspect of Mexican culture that Malú struggles to care about. In response to a conflict between Selena and Malú, Malú hurriedly signs up to audition her, yet to be created, band for the talent show as a means to compete with Selena. Shortly afterward, Malú corrals three other misfits in Joe, Benny, and Ellie to spontaneously form a punk band named The Co-Co’s, a name that takes clever ownership of a derogatory slight aimed at Malú’s complex identity. Ultimately disqualified for their band’s non-traditional music, The Co-Co’s take action by creating an Alterna-Fiesta to provide justice and opportunity for those with alternative talents.

As Malú explores how to bring a punk perspective to Posada Middle School, the book explores how multiple identities can merge within a single individual, and that a knowledge of history can connect people to cultures they did not feel connected to previously. The book positions multiple characters on both sides of the spectrum, both young and old, for traditional Mexican culture and punk culture. The book also displays how many people are more complex than first impressions lead on with the discovery of Selena’s alternative interests. Because of Malú’s growth and confidence in her own identity, Malú supports Selena’s alternative interests and encourages her to participate in the Alterna-Fiesta.

Throughout the book, the reader is also gifted with numerous zines, self published magazine diaries, personalized by Malú herself. With the visual assistance of Malú’s numerous zines, the reader is able to gain an expanded perspective on Malú’s inner thoughts. Each zine explores a different aspect of Malú’s journey and history and allows the reader to observe Malú’s mind. The clever style and direction helps illustrate Malú’s personality and the conflicts with characters and her own identities.

The First Rule of Punk presents a multidirectional conversation on multicultural identities, connectedness, and intersectionality. Author Celia C. Pérez touches on the importance of equity and the power of an alliance across age and ethnicity. So what does it mean to “be yourself”? It means to be punk, but being punk isn't about being strictly rebellious or counterculture. It's about being who you are despite the culture around you, owning your identity, and making your own rules. The First Rule of Punk highlights one particular path to, and the value of, taking ownership of one’s identity, and it is a fun ride along the way.

Discussion Questions for Your First Rule of Punk Book Club

Questions to Discuss after Completing Chapter 5

Malú seems to struggle to relate with her mother whom she labels as “Super Mexican” and deals with divorced parents. Familial issues, miscommunications, and strife with parents are normal, but we all have to navigate through them. Everyone’s parents grew up in a different background and culture, so miscommunications are bound to happen because of the generation gap.

  • Share your thoughts and feelings on how you have dealt with any of these types of issues in your life? Was it a discomforting time in your life?

  • What are you most proud of in your own identity?

  • Do you ever feel pressure to act a certain way because of pressure from external forces in your life like your friends or family?

Questions to Discuss after Completing Chapter 16

Malú has been called a “coconut,” numerous times.

  • How did you feel Malú has handled this situation given the discovery of its meaning?

  • Has there been a time when you've been called a stereotype or microaggression? What did you do about it, and how did you feel about it?

Questions to Discuss after Completing Chapter 23

  • Reflecting on the diversity in the novel, did you see any similarities or differences within the members of The Co-Co’s?

Malú starts an anti-talent show because her group was disqualified from the talent show.

  • What does this say about Malú’s character?

  • How do you feel when you are excluded from things?

  • How do our social identities impact our understanding of the circumstances and our reactions to the circumstances going on halfway in the book?

The school does not love Malú’s punk aesthetic.

  • Reflect on how Malú’s expression of punk aesthetic represents her fight for herself. Have you experienced fighting for your own self-expression?

Malú and Selena have a lot of friction. Malú learns that Selena wants to learn Irish dance even though it is not approved by her mom.

  • How do you think Malú feels about this?

  • Has there been a time when you could empathize with someone who is different from you?

Questions to Discuss after Finishing the Novel

Malú embraces her Mexican heritage in the end with the band’s performance.

  • What kind of development have you seen in Malú’s character?

  • Have you ever struggled to embrace your own identity in your own life, and how did you get to the point to embrace it?

Malú’s mother recognized their relationship wasn’t perfect due to always opposing the non-traditional aspects of Malú’s personality.

  • Reflect on what it meant for Malú that her mom accepted their differences in their relationship?

What to Read Next & Connection to the Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Framework Social Justice Standards

Celia C. Pérez’s “The First Rule of Punk” provides young adult readers with a comprehensive story of embodying an identity informed by multiple cultural perspectives; this resource list aims to provide supplemental young adult novels which explore themes similar to those featured in Malú’s experience as a means of promoting readers’ social justice literacy. Each title is accompanied by a summary in relation to Teaching Tolerance’s Anti-Bias Framework Social Justice Standards, price, link to a seller, and a recommended reader level (in accordance to this Recommended Reader Level Key).

Identity Anchor Standard

The following titles explore the formation of identity informed by practical social justice ideals in accordance to the Identity anchor standard.

1A. Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.

Title: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Author: Dusti Bowling

Summary: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling, tells Aven Green’s coming of age with physical limitations after her family’s cross-country move to Arizona introduces her to Connor, a classmate who struggles with isolation due to his own disability. The duo works together to solve a mystery and, in doing so, Aven and Connor learn how to embody their multifaceted social and personal identities with pride.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

1B. Students will develop language and historical and cultural knowledge that affirm and accurately describe their membership in multiple identity groups.

Title: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak

Author: Pablo Cartaya

Summary: This accessibly uplifting novel by Pablo Cartaya chronicles the awkward, yet formative journey of eighth-grader Marcus Vega in his search of his family’s Puerto Rican cultural roots; Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish highlights the process of accurately informing one’s social identity with comprehensively relevant cultural contexts.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

1C. Students will express pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem without denying the value and dignity of other people.

Title: The Stars Beneath Our Feet

Author: David Moore

Summary: David Moore’s The Stars Beneath Our Feet explores the route to righteous self-love, illuminated by adversity; after his brother’s death in a gang-related shooting, Lolly Rachpaul struggles to make sense of the world around him until he’s gifted Legos, which help him to literally and metaphorically rebuild his sense of self.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle/High

1D. Students will recognize traits of the dominant culture, their home culture and other cultures and understand how they negotiate their own identity in multiple spaces.

Title: Each Tiny Spark

Author: Pablo Cartaya

Summary: In the face of her splintering family’s struggle with mental health, Emilia Torres is tasked with mapping her multicultural familial roots as a means of developing her identity in Pablo Cartaya's Each Tiny Spark; Emilia’s experience doing so allows readers to better understand how to embody a comprehensive sense of self.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

Diversity Anchor Standard

The following titles consider the role of diversity literacy in the formation of social justice mindsets and practices.

2A. Students will develop language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including themselves) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.

Title: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

Author: Pablo Cartaya

Summary: In Pablo Cartaya's The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, readers are invited to enlighten their understanding of the differences which give meaning to the development of identity in Arturo Zamora’s fight against gentrification and cultural erasure.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

2B. Students will respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and will exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.

Title: Piecing Me Together

Author: Renée Watson

Summary: Set in Portland, Oregon, Renée Watson's Piecing Me Together shares Jade’s isolating experience as one of the only Black teenagers in her school; her relationships with her peers allow insight into the ways through which readers can increase their identity-awareness while promoting social equity.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle/High

2C. Students will respond to diversity by building empathy, respect,

understanding and connection.

Title: The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle

Author: Mason Buttle

Summary: Mason Buttle, the biggest and sweetest kid in his grade, takes refuge from bullying in his relationship with Calvin Chumsky, until Calvin goes missing; Leslie Connor's The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle depicts the ways in which readers can practice empathy, appreciation, and the promotion of equitable social outcomes toward individuals of differing racial, ability, and gender identities.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

2D. Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.

Title: Amina’s Voice

Author: Hena Khan

Summary: Amina’s Voice, by Hena Khan, illustrates the struggles of Amina, a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, in accepting her vibrant cultural identity despite the whitewashed expectations of her middle school; Amina’s developing appreciation of her familial history will guide readers through the process of accepting and celebrating the complex nature of identity.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

Justice Anchor Standard

The following titles feature themes of recognizing justice in the development of social

justice awareness.

3A. Students will recognize stereotypes and relate to people as individuals

rather than representatives of groups.

Title: Strange Birds

Author: Celia C. Pérez

Summary: The First Rule of Punk author Celia C. Pérez provides readers with a story of finding independence, justice, and empowerment despite the interference of outdated social groupings through the adventures of sisterhood -- Strange Birds.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

3B. Students will recognize unfairness on the individual level (e.g., biased speech) and injustice at the institutional or systemic level (e.g., discrimination).

Title: Watch Us Rise

Author: Ellen Hagan

Summary: In the face of microaggressions and their school’s sexist, racist, and abelist policies, Jasmine and Chelsea start a Women’s Rights Club as a means of ditching disenfranchisement and promoting justice in education in Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan's Watch Us Rise.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle/High

3C. Students will recognize that power and privilege influence relationships on interpersonal, intergroup and institutional levels and consider how they have been affected by those dynamics.

Title: This Side Of Home

Author: Reneé Watson

Summary: Yet another of Reneé Watson’s illuminating works of social justice fiction set in Portland, Oregon, “This Side Of Home” features twins, Nikki and Maya’s action against the gentrification which threatens to erase their primarily Black neighborhood’s rich history; readers are encouraged to understand the process and injustice of gentrification and reflect upon the ways in which they can take a stand against cultural whitewashing.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle/High

3D. Students will identify figures, groups, events and a variety of strategies and philosophies relevant to the history of social justice around the world.

Title: The Night Diary

Author: Veera Hiranandani

Summary: Set at the border of 1947 India and Pakistan, half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha is forced to navigate the tension-filled cultural divide as a refugee; this historically accurate work of realistic fiction guides readers through Nisha’s identity development in the face of social injustice.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

Action Anchor Standard

The following titles focus on the practice of enforcing social equity.

4A. Students will express empathy when people are excluded or mistreated because of their identities and concern when they themselves experience bias.

Title: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up

Author: Fred Korematsu

Summary: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up provides readers with the intimate, historically accurate account of Fred Korematsu’s fight against the internment of Japanese Americans in 1941 as a means of promoting bias-awareness and an understanding of equity justice-informed action.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

4B. Students will recognize their own responsibility to stand up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.

Title: Biddy Mason Speaks Up

Author: Fred Korematsu

Summary: The most recent installment of the “Fighting for Justice” series honors the activism work of Bridget “Biddy” Mason - a Black American philanthropist, healer, and midwife who was born into enslavement. Motivated by social justice ideals, this historically accurate account of the process of standing up and challenging the inequitable treatment of others encourages readers to act accordingly.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

4C. Students will plan and carry out collective action against bias and injustice in the world and will evaluate what strategies are most effective.

Title: Moxie

Author: Vivian Carter

Summary: Vivian Carter’s pushback against her school administration’s blatantly sexist leanings leads to the development of Moxie - a collaborative feminist zine which inspires the other girls in her grade to forge relationships as a means of challenging dominant injustice and bias.

Recommended Reader Level: Middle

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