MTYT: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance

Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM

In the third MTYT installment for April 2021, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson provide their take on Lupe Wong Won’t Dance written by Donna Barba Higuera. The middle school novel was the 2021 Pura Belpré Award Winner.

VIOLET: In this novel, we meet Lupe Wong, a young teen who wants to be the first Chinacan/Mexinese female to play in the major leagues. She has the opportunity to meet her favorite pitcher, major league pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, but first, she needs to pass her Physical Education class. Being an athlete, this should be an easy task, but when she needs to take on square dancing, it becomes anything but easy and for those around her, as well.

MARY: “My gym shorts burrow into my butt crack like a frightened groundhog” (p. 1). From the moment I read the opening sentence I knew this was going to be one of those middle grade novels filled with references to bodily fluids and corny jokes – all the things middle grade students love! Higuera lures readers into the story with humor and a relatable cast of characters. I liked Lupe immediately; her spunk, determination and eagerness to solve problems. As I read further along though, I began to sense that Lupe’s motivations for change were meant to benefit mostly her. After Lupes self-centeredness nearly ends her relationship with her best friend Andy, Lupe shifts her focus from herself to others including her family, her friends, her classmates and her teachers. Higuera invites readers to experience Lupe’s transformation through the character’s thoughts and actions. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but Lupe experiences a tremendous amount of social and emotional growth by the end of the story.

VIOLET: I appreciate the journey Higuera led us through in Lupe’s character development and all the characters. I found Lupe’s narrative right on track with what middle schoolers would relish. I admired her determination to keep exploring these issues that did not make sense to her. As I read this book, I found myself Googling all her research as she set to educate everyone on the history of square dancing. Her perseverance led to much-needed change at her school. In addition, this book serves as a model for young teens, and everyone, in becoming advocates for bringing about awareness towards a more inclusive society.

MARY: I researched the history of square dancing too, Violet! I’’m originally from Montana where square dancing was popular a few decades ago. So, imagine my surprise when I learned about the origins of the Cotton-Eyed Joe. I think every reader should Google this song.

In addition to this book advocating for inclusivity, I think Lupe also models for readers the idea of change and acceptance. Lupe tries to change things that she doesn’t like (or thinks she doesn’t like), which I completely support. As she changes towards the end of the book, Lupe also begins to realize that sometimes we don’t always have to change things we don’t like. We can simply persevere through them. This is an important life lesson too!

We invite WOW readers to pick up a copy of Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera and relive some of their middle school experiences with Lupe. We think you will agree that, while some things remain the same, many things about middle school have changed for the better!

Title: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
ISBN: 9781646140039
Publisher: Levine Querido
PubDate: September 8, 2020

Throughout April 2021, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson discuss 2021 Pura Belpré award winners and honor books. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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