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Dancing Home

By Alma Flor Ada, Gabriel M. Zubizarreta

Reading Group Guide

    A Reading Group Guide for:

    Dancing Home (Nacer Bailando)
    By Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta

    The author of this book proposes that effective reading is a dialogue, albeit silent, between reader and text, a process she has described as creative reading. Reading transcends the author’s words, being heightened by the reader’s previous knowledge. The reader’s previous experiences inspire feelings in response to the text and critical reflections on what the text proposes. Above all, through this dialogue with the text, readers can discover new possibilities for action in their lives, strength to act more courageously, with greater kindness, compassion, empathy; and knowledge to act more wisely, with greater understanding or determination.

    About the Book

    Mexico may be her parents’ home, but it’s certainly not Margie’s. She has finally convinced the other kids at school she is one hundred percent American—just like them. But when her Mexican cousin Lupe visits, the image she’s created for herself crumbles.

    Things aren’t easy for Lupe, either. Mexico hadn’t felt like home since her father went North to find work. Lupe’s hope of seeing him in the United States comforts her some, but learning a new language in a new school is tough. Lupe, as much as Margie, is in need of a friend.

    Little by little, the girls’ individual steps find the rhythm of one shared dance, and they learn what “home” really means.

    Discussion Questions

    1. As Margie visits the principal’s office in preparation for Lupe’s enrollment in her school, she notices a map of North America with vivid and bold colors for the United States and Canada, yet the part of Mexico included is displayed in a drab, sandlike color. In what ways does the imagery of the map capture Margie’s feelings for her parents’ birthplace? What is it about her understanding of Mexico that makes her feel this way?

    2. Consider the dress that Lupe wears on the first day of school. What does it symbolize for Lupe? Why does Margie have such a different reaction to it? Why are Margie's feelings so strong? How do you think you would have felt in Margie's place?

    3. Though she is initially hesitant, why does Lupe ultimately choose to go to California with her aunt Consuelo? Lupe “feels like a stranger in her own home”—how is that so? What changes in her home life have promoted this shift?

    4. Margie really prides herself with being born north of the border as an American. In your opinion, what leads Margie to have such strong feelings toward her citizenship? How do you feel about her attitude regarding her place as a US citizen? Do you think the place of birth is the only qualification to be a good citizen? Why or why not?

    5. After working hard to convince her mom that rather than long, straight hair, a head full of brown curls is the ideal image of a true American girl, Margie feels jealous of her mother’s intimacy with Lupe as she assists her niece with brushing and braiding her hair. In your opinion, do you think Margie has a reason to be jealous? Why or why not?

    6. Explain the significance of the title, Dancing Home. What events and relationships portrayed in the book are expressed by this title?

    7. While discussing her unwillingness to speak Spanish in the classroom to assist her cousin Lupe, Margie tells her mother, “But we live in America, Mom. This is an English-speaking country. Live in America, speak American. That’s what they all say.” Have you heard similar statements before? Do you speak a language other than English? Does anyone in your family? What are your feelings about being bilingual?

    8. How does Margie's interpretation of her peers' attitudes toward Mexico impact her relationship with her parents, and with Lupe?

    9. Why does Margie feel so disappointed that with Lupe’s arrival, the way Margie’s family has celebrated Christmas in the past is put aside to celebrate a more traditional Mexican Christmas? Do you think her parents are right to do so? What do Margie and Lupe gain from this holiday experience?

    10. Consider the variety of settings for Dancing Home and name the three places you believe to be most important to the story. Using textual evidence from the book, explain why you find them to be significant to the story.

    11. For what reasons do you think Margie feels connected to her friend Camille? In what ways are the two of them similar? How would you characterize the relationship between the two of them, and how does it change over the course of the novel?

    12. Describe Lupe. How does she change throughout the story? Have you ever shared any of her feelings? Explain.

    13. In what ways does the visit by her uncle Francisco help make Margie more understanding of the struggles faced by Lupe? Francisco failed Lupe in many ways, yet he is finally able to give her a powerful gift. Do you believe Lupe will benefit from her father's message? Explain your answer.

    14. Consider the novel’s cover art. In what ways is the image represented symbolic for the events that transpire throughout the course of the book?

    15. In your opinion, in what ways does Margie’s shift in understanding of who she is change throughout the course of the novel? In what ways does Camille help Margie better understand and appreciate her heritage?

    16. Do you feel that reading this book has given you new insight about what immigrant students may experience? About any other issue? Please explain your answer.

    17. Using the phrase, “This is a story about . . .” supply five words to describe Dancing Home. Explain your choices.

    Activities and Research

    1. In the course of the novel, readers learn that Margie’s grandfather was part of the Bracero Program. Using the library and the internet, research to learn more about this government program, being sure to consider how many workers participated, where these farm workers provided assistance, and what the benefits and challenges were.

    2. In Dancing Home, Margie struggles when her American Christmas is modified so that her family can celebrate a more traditional Mexican holiday. Using the library and the internet, research what the major similarities and differences are between Christmas in Mexico and Christmas in the United States.

    3. Make thematic connections. Consider the themes of Dancing Home: examples include (but are not limited to) family, friendship, sacrifice, and courage. Select a theme and find examples from the book that help support this theme. Create a sample Life Lesson Chart using the model at: http://www.readwritethink.org/lesson_images/lesson826/chart.pdf.

    4. Dancing plays an important role throughout the novel and in particular, in Margie’s relationship with her cousin Lupe. Find out more about folklorico dances, being sure to focus on the importance of music, costumes, and their purpose for celebrations like Cinco de Mayo.

    5. Language is also a very important theme in Dancing Home. Find out about the language history in the United States. Which languages were spoken in this land before English? What are the personal benefits of speaking more than one language? What are the benefits for society when languages are maintained?

    6. In Dancing Home, part of Margie's and Lupe’s stories focus on their connection and relationship with each other and their need to come together as a family. Consider your most special relationships. What makes these individuals so important? Compose a personal journal entry where you share your thoughts, and be sure to answer the following questions:

    •Who are the individuals who mean the most to you?
    •Why are these particular relationships so special?
    •What’s the greatest sacrifice you’ve made for the people you love?
    •In what ways have the changes you’ve experienced in your life affected those to whom you are closest?

    Share your writing with the group.

    Guide written by Rose Brock, a teacher, school librarian, and doctoral candidate at Texas Woman’s University, specializing in children’s and young adult literature.

    This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

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