We know that young people often struggle to define their identities and their place within society. However, once comfortable in one’s identity, new challenges often arise. One of those challenges is feeling uncertain of whether you live up to society’s expectations of someone who is (insert identity here) . I am Jewish, but I am not particularly observant. Does that make me less of a Jew? I have always identified as female, but I don’t dress the way that other women dress and I don’t wear makeup. Does that make me less of a woman? The answer to both questions is no. But it took me a long time to figure that out.
Two books that communicate these concerns are the graphic novel Ms. Marvel written by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona and The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez. In Ms. Marvel, Kamala doesn’t always feel like she fits the mold of “Muslim teenage girl” that has been defined by her family and community. She also doesn’t see her looks as fitting in the role of a superhero, so when she starts to transform into Ms. Marvel she has white skin and blond hair. Eventually, though, she realizes that actions and not images define us.
In The First Rule of Punk, Malù has moved from Florida to Chicago and she is not particularly happy about it. Her mom, who she calls SuperMexican, is never completely satisfied with her daughter’s “punk” lifestyle. Her mom insists on introducing Malú as María Luisa and wants her to act more like a señorita. Over time, Malú discovers that there were some pretty punk señores and señoras in Mexican history and in Mexico today. She starts to embrace her entire identity rather than just pieces of it, and so do those around her.
Society at large communicates its expectations through the media and public systems. Our own social circles have standards that are communicated either directly or indirectly to us at all times. It can be hard for students to feel comfortable within themselves if they do not fit completely into those boxes and especially difficult if there are multiple boxes and just one individual. Books like these can help students to recognize that fitting into an identity group does not, or at least should not, require the loss of individuality.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards (both books):
Identity 3: I know that overlapping identities combine to make me who I am and that none of my group identities on their own fully defines me or any other person.
Diversity 7: I can accurately and respectfully describe ways that people (including myself) are similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.
Diversity 9: I know I am connected to other people and can relate to them even when we are different or when we disagree.
Common Core Standards for Ms. Marvel:
RL.2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3- Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
RL.6- Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
Common Core Standards for The First Rule of Punk:
RL.2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
RL.3- Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
RL.6- Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.