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The First Rule of Punk: Celia C. Pérez’s 2018 BGHB Fiction & Poetry Honor Speech

I didn’t always know I wanted to write for children. I always knew I loved books, and I knew writing was something I enjoyed, but the idea of writing as work, for an audience, and especially the idea of writing books — which were these things I only ever had access to through someone else, in places that weren’t home, that were never mine to keep — wasn’t something that crossed my mind. I’m not sure if I didn’t think about writing books because I never saw names that looked like mine on the covers of books I read — I’m guessing that had something to do with it. Or if it was because I never read stories that sounded like my own. While I empathized with Ramona Quimby’s little-sister woes, Ramona was never forced to eat pigs feet in tomato sauce. And as much as she acted out, Ramona Quimby was never chased by her mom with la chancla.

When I peel back my memories to when I first knew I wanted to be a writer, I often go back to when I was the same age as my protagonist. When I was twelve, I had two obsessions: reading and professional wrestling. I watched hours of wrestling on TV every weekend. My entire seventh-grade diary is about professional wrestling. At twelve when I thought about my future, quite frankly all I saw was professional wrestling. And then I saw a copy of Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine in a 7-Eleven, and I realized that writing professionally was something a scrawny little Latina might be able to do. It was probably the first time I thought of writing as my future. So you could say it’s all thanks to Ric Flair that I’m here today.

There were many times, as I worked on The First Rule of Punk, that I wondered: who would read a book like this? I asked myself if it was too much of some things and not enough of others. My desire was to write a book that was about being Latino, but not just about being Latino. I wanted to write a book with a Latina protagonist whose story wasn’t the story people are accustomed to reading. I didn’t want to write about immigration or poverty. Not to minimize the importance and the place of those experiences, because they were part of my life growing up, but these weren’t the only experiences that contributed to how I formed my identity.

I wanted to write a story about what it’s like to feel like an outsider in the different worlds you navigate through daily. Some of us are Latinos, and we’re also the nerdy kids, the weirdos, the kids who don’t fit in anywhere — too brown in some worlds, and not brown enough in others. Some of us are the kids who speak Spanglish, who can’t speak any Spanish, who know little or nothing about our cultural backgrounds. Some of us are the kids who live in-between worlds. The kids who can’t be easily classified.

The First Rule of Punk is a book about all the things that make us who we are. It’s about being more than what we appear to be. It’s about containing multitudes as individuals, but also as a people. It’s a glimpse into another American experience. It’s about a kid, like any kid, trying to figure out her place in the world.

The books I read as a child are the books that have stayed with me the longest in my life as a reader. I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to write for young readers. It is my privilege and honor to be here today. When I look at the list of past winners and honorees, as well as those sharing this experience with me today, I am humbled to be a part of it.

I would like to thank the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee for being so kind to me and to this book. Thank you to all of this year’s winners for the stories you tell in words and in images. Thank you to my publisher, Ken Wright at Viking; my agent, Stefanie Von Borstel; and my editor, Joanna Cárdenas, without whom I would not be here. Thank you to my family. And all my gratitude to everyone who helped make this book happen and to everyone who has read, shared, and supported the book.

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB18.

Celia C. Pérez About Celia C. Pérez

Celia C. Pérez is a reference and instruction librarian at Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL. She is a former co-chair of REFORMA's Children and Young Adult Services Committee and served on the 2014 Pura Belpré Award committee. Her middle-grade novel, The First Rule of Punk (Viking), was a Pura Belpré Author Honor book winner.

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