The First Rule of Punk

by Celia C. Pérez. Novel. 336 pages. Grades 3-6.
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Teacher's Guide

cover art

This wonderful book is rich in Mexican-American culture, music, friendship, school and family relationships. The central theme follows seventh grader Malú as she struggles to find her own place in relation to all these issues after having literally moved to a new place. As a read-aloud, it can even work with third graders, and some of them will be able to read it independently. Great for students right up to eighth grade. The text is broken up by illustrations of collages Malú creates as a kind of journal of her inner world.

Just as Malú (María Louisa) is entering the seventh grade, she and her mother move from Florida to Chicago so that her mother can take a two-year teaching job at a college there. Malú is devastated at having to move. Her parents are divorced, and moving will mean leaving her father behind, who Malú feels understands her much better than her mother. Malú nicknames her mother Super-Mexican because she is so into Mexican culture and is always pushing Malú (who is half Mexican American) to learn more about her Mexican heritage and to behave in ways more befitting of a Mexican American. Her father, on the other hand, runs a record store and is into punk rock, which Malú also loves. So, she feels pressure from her mom but acceptance from her dad.

Once in Chicago, Malú makes friends with Joe, and together with two other students, they form a punk band to try out for the school talent show. When they are eliminated from the show because they are too loud and not traditionally Mexican enough (the talent show is a celebration of the famous Mexican the school is named after), they decide to create an alternative talent show where they, and anyone else who wants to, can perform.

There is tension in the book as Malú keeps her punk band a secret from her mother because she is afraid her mother will try to stop her. The school is mainly Latino, so the book is a wonderful way to explore this culture in a setting where whites are the minority and racism is somewhat buffered because of the Latino majority. We also get to learn some about traditional Mexican music and Punk music. The first rule of punk is: Be myself.

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Things to Talk About and Notice

  • Families: Why is Malú worried about leaving her father behind? What will she miss about him?

  • Families, Communication: What annoys Malú about her mother? Would you find it annoying? Can you think of ways her mother could communicate her thoughts in a way that would not be as difficult for Malú?

  • Language Arts, Literary Analysis: What does the title mean? Why do you think the author chose it?

  • Self-Confidence: What do people mean when they say "Be yourself"? How do people expect you to actually do it? What factors make it difficult to be yourself?

  • Social Skills: What draws Malú to Joe? Notice their first dialog and how they initiate friendliness with each other.

  • Social Skills: What qualities draw the band members together? How do they negotiate differences of opinion and conflict?

  • Race, Cultures: One member of Malú's band is a non-Hispanic white in their otherwise largely Latino middle school. At one point, she mentions that her mother thought it would be good for her to experience being in the minority. What do you think about that? How is being in a white minority similar to being a racial minority in the US? How is it different?

  • Bullying: Why is Malú called a coconut? How does it make her feel? How do her feelings change when they name their band The Coconuts? Why?

  • Art, Music, Self-Confidence: Malú's art and music both help her in her efforts to discover more about what she really thinks and feels. They also help her have the courage to be more open about who she is. Why do you think they are helpful? How might they help you? What else might help?


  • Social Studies, World Cultures, Writing: If you are familiar with Mexican-American culture, list some of the cultural references in the book that you also appreciate. Write about what you like about them.

  • Social Studies, World Cultures, Research: If you are unfamiliar with Mexican-American culture, list some of the references in the book and research more information about them.

  • Art, Writing, Journalling: Create collage journal entries similar to Malú's, but reflecting your own life.

  • Music: Find some punk rock music and listen to it.

  • Music, Poetry: Find some lyrics that you particularly like and write them up for a bulletin board display.

  • Culture, Music: Take a traditional song and make it punk or another contemporary genre.

  • Arts: Put on a talent show.

  • Self-Confidence, Art, Writing: Create an "I Am . . . " collage which reflects your strengths.

  • Writing, Authenticity: Write about something you might do or stop doing in order to be more true to yourself.

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