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Parrot in the Oven is written in a series of vignettes. It is the story of a Mexican-American youth who wants to be a 'vato firme' - a guy who has the respect of others. He joins a gang, experiences a crush on a teacher, tries to fit in with his friends and also copes with his dysfunctional family. The main character is also the narrator, and he tells of the universal problems of teenage angst.
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About the Author
The author of Parrot in the Oven is Victor Matinez who was born and raised in California. He began his writing career as a poet. He says that he "just decided one day to start writing fiction." He says that many of the events in the book happened either to himself or to his brothers and that "the sentiment of the character is very much how I felt at that age."
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Questions For Your Students
After reading the novel, plan on a discussion period. Begin the discussion with the questions: What is a "parrot in an oven"? Have you ever felt the same? Would you be willing to share those feelings?
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The author uses a recurring motif in Chapter One (baseball). How do these motifs let you know that Manny is obsessed by baseball? How are they used again in Chapter Two? By Chapter Eleven the baseball obsession has faded but how is it still used as an excuse? Do you think that the author's name has a link to baseball? How? If you are not sure look it up on the Internet.
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Victor Martinez uses wonderfully descriptive language to set the scene and describe events. How did you feel when Nardo and Manny got the worst row of peppers in Chapter One? Then how did you feel when the Mexican man abandoned his bag of peppers? Did Nardo and Manny do the right thing?
The author's description of the bullying and fight in Chapter two is quite graphic. How did it make you feel?
In Chapter three what feelings did you have about Manny when he went to the other school? Was Mr. Hart trying to help? Why or why not? What do you think he should have done? How did Dad's attitude toward him make you feel?
In Chapter Four Mom goes through a range of emotions. How do you feel she should have dealt with the situation?
In Chapter Five how did the description of Grandma's funeral make you feel? Why?
Chapter Eight begins with a very explicit description. Is it necessary? Why? How did it make you feel?
Chapter Nine tells about Manny's 'joy and terror' of going to Dorothy's party. What would be his joyous feelings? What would be his terrified feelings?
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The author was originally a poet and in this, his first book, his use of rich language and imagery is used in impressive style. By using a simple acrostic poem outline we can explore a poetic device called alliteration. Take the word Manny and print the letters down your paper. On each line use the letter to describe the character. On the first line will be the letter 'M' The words that you might use - macho, motivated, mixed-up.
On a very large sheet of paper make a picture of Manny and attach your poem to his shirt.