Southwest Children's  Literature

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Students at Cienega High School and graduate students at the University of Arizona read Stargirl. Stargirl is a story about many things. It's about entering a community for the first time. It's also about a first kiss, first love--and other firsts we won't tell you about because we don't want to give away the book! These important firsts can be considered "rites of passage," a phrase that comes from the field of anthropology.

Traditionally speaking, a rite of passage is a ceremony that marks and creates an important change in a person's life—the change from child to adult, from an umarried person to a married person, etc. Many traditional rites of passage are practiced in the United States, such as bar and bat mitzvahs, quinceañeras, graduation ceremonies, birthday parties, weddings, and funerals. But we also use the phrase "rite of passage" to describe important transitions in life that do not come with official ceremonies, such as your first kiss or when you get your driver's license. These transitions may not have rituals associated with them, but they nevertheless are moments that change us in important ways.

Reading Stargirl, a book about rites of passage, inspired us to think about rites of passage in our own lives.

QUESTION: What do you feel like has been your most significant rite of passage so far? Why?

ANSWERS from high school students: Josh felt like his most important rite of passage so far was his first kiss. Miguel believed that when he stopped getting arrested was his most important because it made his mom happy. Jalicia felt like graduating from 8th grade has been the most important so far because she is one step closing to graduating from high school. Ethan felt like going to high school has been his because he thought it was going to be hard. Joe thought reading his first book by himself has been his most important rite of passage because he is now a reader. Jane remembered the first time she rode her horse Strawberry; it was important because Strawberry was a wild mustang, and Jane was able to calm her down enough to be able to ride her. Ally thinks that her first childhood relationship was her most important.

ANSWERS from U of A students: Melissa and Lisa both said that graduating in three weeks with their master's degrees would be their most significant rite of passage. Cybele said hers was graduating from high school. Marianne wrote, "My first car, nicknamed Dwayne after Dwayne Wayne of A Different World, was a 1971 Datsun pickup. It was a sky-blue hooptie with a hole in the floorboard and a manual choke. Every morning, I crossed my fingers and prayed it would start (and stop) when I needed it to. The first time Dwayne broke down, I left the keys and a note for my dad on the kitchen table: 'Dear Dad, truck's busted--please fix.' When I got home that afternoon, my dad used a corner of that same paper to scrawl a note that read,'Come and get me when you're ready to work on your car.' Initially, I was shocked and a bit hurt that my dad wasn't willing to 'take care of me'
like he used to with my broken skates or busted bicycle chains. But as time rolled on, I realized he was helping me make a significant transition into the adult world or responsibility and self-reliance. My dad has been a helpful guide for my journey through life's different stages."

QUESTION: What future rite of passage are you most looking forward to? Why?

ANSWERS from high school students: Ally wanted to become a singer and saw that as the thing that she is most looking forward to. Justin was longing for his first "hot chick." Jane couldn't wait to discover her career. Daniel couldn't wait to enter the work force and to enter "real life." Joe looked forward to becoming an author! Ethan longed for his first nice car. Jalicia wanted her first car! Miguel couldn't wait to enter adulthood and get married. Chase wanted to turn 18 so that he can attend "adult" establishments. Josh couldn't wait for his band to get signed!

ANSWERS from U of A students: Melissa was looking forward to relocating to a new city, starting her career, and beginning a new life. Cybele was looking forward to publishing her first book. Amy and Lisa were looking forward to her first full-time, permanent jobs. Melissa, Cybele, Lisa also are all looking forward to getting married. Marianne was looking forward to moving with her husband into their first home. Anne is looking forward to the crone stage of womanhood.

U of A students then posed these additional questions to the high school students:

QUESTION: Why are rites of passages so important?

ANSWERS: Jane felt like rites of passage are important because they gives you something to accomplish. Miguel thought that rites of passage are important because they show that you did something or accomplished something. Trevor stated that they are important because they help you transform from a little boy into a big boy. Kimmy thought they are important because they help you learn different things. The class said that it also gives you the opportunity to become part of a group.

QUESTION: When you've finished a rite of passage, do you feel that you have accomplished something big in your life?

ANSWERS: Jane said that it does't necessarily have to be something big. But Trevor felt like every rite of passage is big in its own way because it is a big thing for your age or level of development. Everything is big in a way. To one person or another it is a big deal.

QUESTION: Do you think it's more important to be an individual and risk being an outcast, or is it better to hide certain aspects of your personality and thoughts in order to fit in?

ANSWERS: Josh said that it is better to be an individual even if you are an outcast because you are being yourself. Josh said the group of outcasts can become friends or their own group. Kaley said to be yourself because you might get better things being yourself because you are not happy if you are pretending to be someone you are not. Jane said that it depends on what you want, on what friends you want, because sometimes you have to hide certain things in order to fit in with the friends you want to fit in with; if you want to make other people happy you may have to change certain things. Trevor said that it depends on who you are with because sometimes you have to pretend to be who you are not in order to protect yourself. Jalicia said if you are pretending to be someone who you are not you are just cheating yourself because you are not being true to yourself. The class seemed to agree that true friends will be your friend if you are who you are and will be your friend forever. Jane admitted that we all have thought about wanting to be someone else but the class agreed that we can all unconsciously change ourselves when we are around different people. Sometimes the people we are around change us.

Many of the students indicated that it was more important to be true to oneself than to misrepresent oneself to be part of a certain group at school. However, there were a few who admitted they would consider changing themselves or hiding certain parts of themselves to become friends with certain people. While this is not the ideal situation, it is human to want to belong or to want to change for someone you love the way Stargirl conformed to Leo's wishes for a time. Ultimately, it doesn't work and unfortunately, it is a negative rite of passage many of people fall prey to until they realize their own inherent self-worth. Conformity did not work for Stargirl. Hopefully her life will be an example from which readers can learn.

Letter to Listening Library