Parrot in the Oven

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Perico, or parrot, was what Dad called me sometimes. It was from a Mexican saying about a parrot that complains how hot it is in the shade, while all along he's sitting inside an oven and doesn't know it....

For Manuel Hernandez, the year leading up to his test of courage, his initiation into a gang, is a time filled with the pain and tension, awkwardness and excitement of growing up in a crazy world. His dad spends most of his time and money at the local pool hall; his brother flips through jobs like a thumb through a deck of cards; and his mom never stops cleaning the house, as though one day the rooms will be so spotless they'll disappear into a sparkle, and she'll be free.

Manny's dad is always saying that people are like money--there are million- and thousand- and hundred-dollar people out there, and to him, Manny is just a penny. But Manny wants to be more than a penny, smarter than the parrot in the oven. He wants to find out what it means to be a vato firme, a guy to respect.

In this beautifully written novel, Victor Martinez gives readers a vivid portrait of one Mexican-American boy's life. Manny's story is like a full-color home movie--sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always intensely original.For Manuel Hernandez, the year leading up to his test of courage, his initiation into a gang, is a time filled with the pain and tension, awkwardness and excitement of growing up in a mixed-up, crazy world. Manny’s dad is always calling him el perico, or parrot. It’s from a Mexican saying about a parrot that complains how hot it is in the shade while all along he’s sitting inside the oven and doesn’t know it. But Manny wants to be smarter than the parrot in the oven—he wants to find out what it means to be a vato firme, a guy to respect. From an exciting new voice in Chicano literature, this is a beautifully written, vivid portrait of one Mexican-American boy’s life.

1998 Pura Belpre Author Award
1996 Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature
1997 Books for the Teen Age (NY Public Library)
1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

Curriculet Details
39 Questions
40 Annotations
2 Quizzes

In this 9th and 10th grade digital curriculum, annotations include links to historical information and photograph and videos that supplement the text, as well as questions which challenge students to reflect deeply about the themes of the book. Interactive videos support student appreciation of the author's use of figurative language and motifs. The Common Core aligned questions and quizzes in this free, online unit address tone, metaphors, and vocabulary usage, while inviting students to reflect upon issues of social justice and family relationships in this coming of age story.

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1 The Baseball Glove

Author Victor Martínez is a master at using figurative language. To learn more about this literary device watch the following video, and then appreciate how this novel is enriched by the language used.  (This annotation contains a video)
In the highlighted sentence, the author uses ______________ twice to describe the girl. 
Manny is Mexican American, and like many others who share his heritage, he takes pride in his background while also acknowledging the difficulties he faces because of discrimination. Is anyone in your family a recent immigrant to the United States? 
What do we know so far about the relationship between the narrator (Manny) and his older brother, Nardo? 
Working conditions for migrant workers are very difficult. The United Farm Workers (featured below) is a national organization that supports the struggles of migrant workers for better conditions and higher pay. Do you think the company employing the workers described in this scene is under UFW contract? Why or why not?  (This annotation contains a link)
Can you imagine why everyone is running? What are some possibilities? 
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. While most of the Spanish words in this novel are not included in the dictionary, the one highlighted here is. If our dictionary doesn't know what a Spanish word means, you can select the blue option at the bottom of the box to google the word for a definition. 
What can we infer from this highlighted paragraph? 

2 Rico’s Pool Hall

"Chingado" is a vulgar word that is commonly used in Spanish as a noun or adjective, to insult someone or something. Author Martínez uses many words in Spanish throughout this novel; how does this affect the story? 
Why doesn't the father want to apply for welfare? 
It is common for children to keep it a secret when they are victims of bullying. If you know someone who is bullied, encourage him or her to tell an adult at school or home. 
Which word is the best antonym of "ornery"? 
The weather is often described as an adversary with figurative language, forming a motif in this book. To learn more about the use of motifs in literature, watch the following video.  (This annotation contains a video)
What do you think Manny's mother is thinking and feeling right now? What informs your opinion? 

3 Charity

What does this first paragraph tell us about educational opportunities? Who attends your school? Who doesn't? 
Which is the most likely reason that Manny does not want to accept a ride from Mr. Hart? 
Are you surprised that Mr. Hart offers Manny money? In many school districts, it is common for teachers to spend their own money for supplies for students. 
The highlighted text uses _____________ to describe Manny's impact on his father. 
Can you anticipate what Manny's father will do with the money from Mr. Hart? What have we learned about him thus far that informs your opinion? 

4 The Bullet

The highlighted text explains the book's title. What does it say about Manny? About his father? 
Manny's memories of good times probably fuel his dreams for a better future.  
What do we know about Pedi? 
Whether Manny's father shoots his mother or not, threatening her with a rifle is an act of domestic violence. If you know someone who lives with domestic violence, consider sharing the hotline information featured below.  (This annotation contains a link)
Manny's mother doesn't comply with her husband's request that she lie about the gun. What does this suggest? 
Why do you think Manny's mother sticks her finger in her husband's belt loop? What message is she giving, and to whom? 
Which of the following statements best reflects the relationships in this family? 

5 The Garden

Compare Nardo to his father. How are they similar and how are they different? 
Why might Manny's father be so meticulous about the yard work? What does it tell us about him? 
Can you picture the image conjured up with this personification of the sun and shadows? 
The word "sworly" seems to have been invented by the author. Which of the following choices seems most likely to be what he intended? 
Listen to this Joni Mitchell song about not appreciating things until they change. How does it compare to what Manny is feeling?  (This annotation contains a video)
Families and communities have different rites and rituals when someone dies. What does your family do when there is a death? 
What does the author accomplish by having Manny tell this story about his grandmother? 

6 The Rifle

Which of the following is not true about Magda? 
Did you know that dominos have been around for hundreds of years? While it is believed that the game originated in China, it is very popular in Latin America and the Caribbean today. Below is a picture of a set that has been prepared like Manny has done to entertain Pedi.  (This annotation contains an image)
We don't know for sure, but we can estimate that Pedi is ________________ years old. 
There is a lot of controversy about whether or not people should be allowed to have a gun in their home. Can you list a reason for and a reason against this? 
What does the highlighted text mean? 
What is the mistake that Magda's mother is referring to? Why might she feel so strongly about this? 
Quiz One - Chapters 1 - 6 
Why is Manny taking stock of his family at this juncture? What do we learn about him and his relationships? 

7 The Boxing Match

One of the strengths of Martínez's writing is his use of contrasts. Think about how his description of Lencho contrasts with the one of Miss Van der Meer. 
Which of this book's themes is reinforced by the passages that include Miss Van der Meer? 
Compare the highlighted text to Quote #2 from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which can be found on the page below.  (This annotation contains a link)
What do you think motivates Albert to be on this boxing team?  
Founded in the 1960s, the Brown Berets is a Civil Rights organization that struggles for justice and equality for Mexican Americans. Below is a photograph from one of its first rallies.  (This annotation contains an image)
What does the highlighted text reveal about social justice? 
The author's use of hyperbole creates humor. Do you find yourself laughing aloud while reading parts of this book?  
What do we learn about Manny during this boxing match scene? 
Why does Miguel take over? What does it suggest about Lencho? About Manny? 
What do we learn about this school community through the experience of the boxing match? 
This is the longest chapter in the novel, and pretty much marks the halfway point. What role does it play in our understanding of Manny's growth and development? 

8 Family Affair

How do the descriptions on this page help create tension? Can you give a few examples? 
The author uses comic relief to break up a tense scene. Notice how soon after this the tension builds again. 
What can we conclude from this scene in the clinic? 
Like the word "gringo," "gavacho" is used by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to refer to a white person. It is usually, but not always, used pejoratively. How do you take its meaning here? 
Why doesn't Manny's mother want her husband to know what is going on with Magda? 
Does learning about the father's chronic, physical pain shed any light on his behavior? Does it help us understand him differently? 

9 Dying of Love

What is the overall tone of this opening paragraph? 
Mr. Gliddens allows Manny to continue working with his brother, Nardo. Why? Is it because it represents free labor for him, or is it something else? 
Which is the least likely explanation for why Mr. Giddens can't remember Manny's surname? 
Why is Dorothy so desperate to keep Manny away from her party? 
Do you believe that Dorothy "changed her mind" about Manny? Why or why not? 
Are Magda and Nardo simply teasing Manny because they are his older siblings, or is there some wisdom in what they are trying to tell him? Use previous examples from the book to defend your opinion. 
What is Manny referring to here? 
Pretty in Pink, a 1986 film by John Hughes, has a similar theme of social classes colliding when teenagers from different backgrounds socialize together. Watch the promo clip below and see if you can find a way that it relates to this scene with Manny at Dorothy's party.  (This annotation contains a video)
The author uses _______________ to help us imagine Manny's feelings in this paragraph. 
What does this moment represent for Manny? What does he learn? 

10 A Test of Courage

Are Manny's feelings about love typical of people his age? What factors contribute to his feelings? 
"Pachuco" is a Spanish word which refers to a subculture of Mexican Americans. While its origin is unknown, its use today is sometimes pejorative, sometimes complimentary, and sometimes neutral. Below is a photograph of a typical pachuco hat.  (This annotation contains an image)
Which seems to be the biggest factor motivating Manny to join the gang? 
Most gang initiations are brutally violent. Why do you think gang leaders and members insist on this? 

11 Going Home

How do Manny's feelings here compare to how he felt when he looked in the glass door when leaving Dorothy's party? 
Appreciating wisdom from elders is important in many cultures. What have you learned from an older adult in your family or community? 
From the context, we can surmise that the italicized word, chorro, means  
Given what we have learned about Manny throughout this book, is it difficult or easy to imagine him participating in the gang's activities? 
How do the descriptions of the weather in this chapter contribute to the mood? What do you anticipate happening in the next few pages? 
As you will quickly see, this moment of recognition is a major turning point for Manny.  
What does the highlighted text mean? 
Quiz Two - Chapters 7 - 11 
Are you satisfied with this ending? What does is say about Manny and about his family?