The First Rule of Middle Grade Fiction: Be Yourselves
The first rule of punk, according to Malú’s dad, is to be yourself – as if yourself is a single, easy-to-define, tangible something. But when you’re in middle school, figuring out who you are is a lot more complicated than that.
The First Rule of Punk has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal and I agree with them all. Malú is a relatable character, and the themes of the book both specific and universal. The dichotomy of two very different parents each representing one important piece of Malú’s identity, makes a complicated concept digestible, if not slightly over-simplified.
Her embracing of one side, while totally denying the other feels very age-appropriate and her growing understanding of her complicated identity and the roles each of her parents play in it feels very true to middle school. This is the time when black and white goes grey. The parent our protagonist is more critical of is the more responsible parent, whereas her admiration for her father, more absent and free-spirited, knows no bounds. How painful, as a mother, it is to read her heavy critique of her loving mother, but how real, as a 12-year-old, that critique is.
Malú is headstrong, tantrumy, often wrong, and yet, to me, utterly likeable. We’ve talked on other posts about likability and believability of our protagonists, in particular looking at Ethan in The Ethan I was Before and Alex in See You in the Cosmos where Roxanne and I had differing opinions as to which character we believed in. Malú, to me, is maybe the perfect not-perfect character.
Also, how about those zines! So much fun, so interesting, so fact-filled. A great way of imparting information into a non-information book without feeling forced and definitely without being boring. How do we consider this book, and the zine component, in regards to Newbery. The criteria says, “The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.” What does that mean in this case? I’d argue that it means that unless we see the design of the zines and the way they are inserted as detrimental to the overall book, we consider them only as part of the text. But how?
Ultimately, I think the book is funny, easy to read and a delight to get through. It is likeable! Is it distinguished? Does it need to be weightier to be Newbery worthy? I would argue that it is absolutely distinguished and that it exemplifies excellence in presentation to a child audience. What say you?
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Sharon McKellar
Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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