Educator’s Guide: Estrella’s Quinceañera

Educator’s Guide: Estrella’s Quinceañera

Estrella’s Quinceañera by Malín Alegría is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting scheduled for February 4, 2013.

The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using Estrella’s Quinceañera (Alegría, Simon & Schuster, 2007) in the classroom.  The standards are not included here, but are included with the lesson plans in the PDF.  The complete guide is available for download at no cost:  Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guide: Estrella’s Quinceañera.

To read our thoughts on the novel, see our book review.


For as long as Estrella Alvarez can remember, her mother has been planning to throw her an elaborate quinceañera for her fifteenth birthday — complete with a mariachi band, cheesy decorations, and a hideous dress. Just thinking about her quince makes Estrella cringe. But her mother insists that it’s tradition.

Estrella has other things on her mind, anyway — like dating Speedy. Does it matter that her new friends — and her parents — would never approve of a guy from el barrio? Estrella’s almost fifteen and wants to start making her own decisions. But is she ready to find out who she is — and who she really wants to be? (Amazon).


A little bit about Malín Alegría in her own words. . .

I grew up in the eclectic Mission district of San Francisco: a historically immigrant community known for its rich Latino culture, colorful murals, and leftist politics. The Mission was much more ethnically diverse and full of artists while I was growing up in the eighties. It was the only place you could get a black bean tofu burrito with sprouts. Salsa music and carne asada spun in the air at all hours of the night. My parents were community activist, educators, and artists. As the oldest of four siblings, I was in charge of the activities or tricks we played in the neighborhood. Saturday mornings were filled with magical adventures and fun. We’d play Mexican wrestling, act out court cases, and put on our own community theater projects. It was easy because we were all very loud, highly dramatic, and passionate about life, love, and social causes.

Growing up I refused to have a quince. The quinceañera, with all its fluff, was the epitome of everything I was against. It was gaudy, girlie, and way too Mexican for me. At fourteen I suffered from a major identity crisis. I hated the way I looked. My skin was too dark and my boobs were too small. All my friends wore designer outfits from the mall, while I had to wear my grandmother’s handmade clothes. I’d lie about where I lived, what my parents did for a living, and where I was from. Why? Because I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be like the girls on TV, in teen magazines, and the books I read at school. They were popular and always got the cute boys. I used to wonder if there was some top-secret rulebook for being cool. Deep down I wanted to be a blond cheerleader, with a red convertible, and a hot football player for a boyfriend.  I thought that would make me happy. What I really wanted was to be accepted.

I’ve always been a storyteller. But then again, I had no choice. My father was very strict. He believed that TV rotted the brain. As a child I always felt deprived. I never got to watch enough Smurfs or Thundercats cartoons. I was very lucky that my parents were highly creative and resourceful. They taught me how to perceive the mundane cardboard box into a puppet theater or my very own TV show. Growing up I entertained my siblings by acting out stories with paper dolls, making my own comic strips, skits, or home movies. Storytelling was something I did for fun. It fed my spirit. It wasn’t until I took a creative writing course in college that I realized that I had to take my passion seriously. Yet, I still wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do as a career, so I went into education. I’ve been an educator for the past eight years. I love working with learners of all ages. Writing, storytelling, and drama have been central themes throughout my profession. The most gratifying thing is to inspire someone to find and share their own stories.

In addition to my parents, Rudolfo Anaya was a great inspiration to me as a Chicana author. He was the first Chicano author I read in high school. I remember thinking it was so cool to see someone who looked like me on the back of a book. However, what really stayed with me all these years is his bio. In it he revealed that it took him many drafts to complete the book “Bless me Ultima”. By that time I’d given up my dream of being a writer, because I wasn’t very good in English Lit. It was burning me, because I had all these stories clogged up inside me. But after reading his bio I realized that with persistence and hard work I too could become a writer. It was a totally transformative experience! (Malín Alegría).

For more on Alegría and Estrella’s Quinceañera check out the links below:

Students can also write to Alegría.  From her website: “I love to get email and answer questions for school assignments. You can write me directly at:”


In addition to the lesson plans and activities included here, check out the link below for more books (both fiction and non-fiction) on quinceañeras:

The following lesson plans are divided into two main categories—History and Social Studies and Literary Interpretation: Guided Reading Questions and Reflective Writing Questions.

  • The History and Social Studies section is made up of project-based activities or suggestions that can be used to extend some of the topics covered in the novel.
  • The detailed Guided Reading Questions accompany each chapter.

The Reflective Writing Questions can be used in multiple ways, including as extended response questions, formal essays or individual closing assessments.


Chicano Social Movements
Speedy’s uncle mentions the Brown Berets and a number of other Chicano social movements.  The film Cointelpro 101 is one way to introduce students to these social movements.  From “COINTELPRO 101 is a 56-minute educational film that will open the door to understanding this history. This documentary will introduce viewers new to this history to the basics and direct them to other resources where they can learn more. The intended audiences are the generations that did not experience the social justice movements of the sixties and seventies.”  A lesson plan has been created to accompany the sections of the film that focus specifically on the Chicano/Mexicano movements.  The pdf also includes an indepth list of other resources that may be useful in putting together a unit on this topic. Click here or follow this link to access the lesson plans:

To extend this activity, once students have been introduced to the various Chicano/Mexicano social movements through the film, assign them individual or group research projects where they will choose a specific movement, event, or person to focus on.  Once they have completed  their project, they can present their findings to the class.

Cultural Celebrations—La Quinceañera
Below I’ve included links to two different lesson plans on teaching about quinceañeras.

  • Annette Roberts created a lesson that compares the quinceañera celebrated in selected Spanish speaking countries, and the coming of age party celebrated in the U.S.A (sweet 16). Students will compare and contrast this social event and will make connections with history and geography via this lesson.  While this lesson is based on a reading selection not included in the plans, it could easily be adapted using any of the resources discussed above from The Hispanic Reader’s post.
  • Here you’ll find a quinceañera project created for a Spanish I class (though it could be easily adapted for a different class).  The project includes resources to guide students, easy to follow steps, and a rubric for grading.


Guided Reading Questions

Chapter One:

  1. What is the definition of a quinceañera? How does Estrella feel about it? (p. 1)
  2. Who are Rey and Bobby? (p. 1)
  3. Describe Estrella’s feelings at Teresa’s quinceañera. Hint: Was she really invited? What does Estrella think about how Sheila and Christie would respond to the party?
  4. Who is Marta? What happened between her and her family? (p. 6).
  5. What is a dama? How are they chosen? (p. 8)
  6. What happened to Estrella in the past year that seems to have changed her life dramatically? What did it change? (p. 8-9)

Chapter Two:

  1. Why does Estrella go by Star at Sacred Heart? (p. 12)
  2. How does Estrella feel about her mother meeting her new friends?
  3. What happened with Estrella’s mother the first week at Sacred Heart? What do you think of how Estrella feels about her mother? Do you understand where she’s coming from? Do you think it’s disrespectful? Why? (p. 14)
  4. How did Estrella meet Christie? (p. 17-18)
  5. What two conflicting feelings does Estrella have when she’s around Sheila and Christie? (p. 20)

Chapter Three:

  1. Compare where Estrella lives on the east side of San José to where Sheila lives in Willow Glenn.  How are they different? (p. 25-26)
  2. Who does Estrella meet while walking back to her house? Where does she know him from? (p. 27-28)
  3. What does Estrella think of the ring her mom gives her for the quinceañera? What other piece of jewelry does she compare it to? (p. 33)

Chapter Four:

  1. What assumption does Estrella make about Speedy? Why does she think this? Is she correct? (p. 39-43)
  2. How does Speedy justify selling the stolen clothes? What do you think about his argument? (p. 44)

Chapter Five:

  1. Who does Estrella first compare Speedy to when describing him for Christie and Sheila? Do they know who this person is? Is this surprising? Why do you think they wouldn’t know him? (p. 54)
  2. What does Christie do when Estrella says Speedy is from her neighborhood? How do Christie and Sheila respond to the idea of Speedy? Why do you think they react this way? What assumptions are they making about Estrella’s neighborhood and the people from there? (p. 53-56)

Chapter Six:

  1. What does Estrella promise her father? Do you think she’ll keep that promise? (p. 65)
  2. What do Estrella’s parents argue over at dinner? (p. 67-68)
  3. Whose dress is Estrella going to wear for the quinceañera? (p. 68)
  4. Marta has been mentioned briefly a few times in the book, what do we know about her? What does the family think about her?

Chapter Seven:

  1. Who does Estrella’s mom invite to be the damas for the quinceañera? Why is Estrella upset by this? (p. 71-74)
  2. How does Grand Master D describe Estrella’s quinceañera? Do you think this is appropriate for Estrella? Why or why not? (p. 78)

Chapter Eight:

  1. What do Christie, Sheila and Estrella have planned for the afternoon? What happens to change their plans? (p. 83
  2. Describe the conversation between Estrella and her mom in the car? How do you think Estrella made her mom feel? Do you think you’ve ever said something that made your parents feel the same way? (p. 85-86)

Chapter Nine:

  1. Estrella writes, “The only difference was when I was with him, I didn’t feel awkward about not knowing something” (p. 90).  Why do you think she feels different around Speedy?
  2. Why do you think Juana won’t let Estrella’s family buy the doves that Amy makes? (p. 91-92)

Chapter Ten:

  1. Describe Speedy’s truck.  What did Estrella think of it? Do you think Christie and Sheila would have approved? (p. 94-95)
  2. Where does Speedy take Estrella on their date? What advice would Christie and Sheila have given Estrealla on what to eat? Would that have impressed Speedy? How do you know? (p. 97-99)

Chapter Eleven:

  1. What happens at the dance rehearsal that forces Tere, Izzy and Estrella into a conversation? What does Estrella find out? (p. 103-106)
  2. What does Estrella do at the end of the chapter that surprises everyone? Do you think Estrella is changing? (p. 107)

Chapter Twelve:

  1. Who has to take Estrella home from school? How does she feel about this? Why? (p. 110-111).
  2. What do Estrella’s parents get into an argument about? Describe her mother’s point of view then describe her father’s point of view.  (p.112-113)
  3. Where does Estrella take Speedy after the soccer game? Why does she bring him there? (p. 116-118).
  4. Who almost catches Estrella with Speedy at El Grullense? What do you think would have happened if she was caught? (p. 122-123)

Chapter Thirteen:

  1. What is mal de ojo? (p. 124, 128)
  2. Explain the difference between Estrella’s mom’s and dad’s points of view on money.  Do you think one is right? (p. 130-131)

Chapter Fourteen:

  1. How does Estrella feel when Christie and Sheila criticize the quinceañera? Why do you think she responds this way? (p. 136-138)
  2. What do Sheila and Christie give Estrella for her birthday? How does she feel about it? (p. 139-140)
  3. Who do you think Estrella is going to call first? (p. 140)

Chapter Fifteen:

  1. When Speedy meets Estrella at the park, they start talking about their barrio (or neighborhood).  Do they have the same opinion about their barrio? How does Speedy feel? How does Estrella feel? Who would you agree with? (p. 145-147)

Chapter Sixteen:

  1. What happens when Estrella tells her father about Speedy? How does he respond? (p. 150-152)
  2. How does Estrella treat Speedy when he shows up at school? How do you think that made Speedy feel? Why do you think she acted like that? (p. 153-155)

Chapter Seventeen:

  1. What happens when Estrella sees Speedy at the bus stop? What does he say to Estrella? Do you think he’s right? (p. 157-159)
  2. What is a vendida? (p. 156) Who is called a vendida? (p. 159)
  3. Do you think Izzy was right when she told Estrella “Don’t blame your parents for your actions.  Why don’t you ever take any responsibility” (p. 160).

Chapter Eighteen:

  1. What happens between Estrella, Christie, and Sheila at the party? (p. p. 171-174)
  2. What do you think about what Estrella says to Christie and Sheila? Do you think Estrella has realized something about herself? (p. 171-174)

Chapter Nineteen:

  1. Who does Estrella call to help her? (p. 176)
  2. What does Estrella find out about her cousin? Is her family’s assessment of Marta correct?

Chapter Twenty:

  1. Does Estrella’s grandmother fall for her act? (p. 187-189)
  2. What does Estrella learn from Speedy’s uncle? (p. 192-194)

Chapter Twenty-one:

  1. Estrella and her parents get into an argument over the quinceañera.  What does Estrella say to her parents? How does her mother respond? Why do you think her mother cares so much about the quinceañera? (197-199) What do you think her father meant when he said, “You have no heart” (p. 199)

Chapter Twenty-two:

  1. What does Estrella learn from her conversation with Lucky? (p. 204-206)

Chapter Twenty-three:

  1. How does Estrella make peace with Izzy? (p. 210-213)

Chapter Twenty-four:

  1. How do Tere, Izzy and Estrella plan to pay for the quinceañera? (p. 218-221)
  2. What does Estrella realize when she asks Margarita to be her madrina? (p. 222)

Chapter Twenty-five:

  1. Who helps raise money for the quinceañera? (p. 224-225)
  2. How does Estrella prove to Speedy that she’s changed? (p. 226-227)
  3. What happens that eases things between Speedy and Estrella’s father? (p. 232-233)

Chapter Twenty-six:

  1. A number of people make amends at the quinceañera.  Who all is brought back together? (p. 236, 239, 243)

Chapter Twenty-seven:

  1. What do you think Estrella learned through the entire process of planning her quinceañera?
  2. What did you think of the ending? Is it what you expected? Would you have ended the book differently?

Reflective Writing Questions

  1. Look at each of the words that Alegría defines at the beginning of each chapter.  Pick the one that you connect with the most or that means the most to you.  Explain why you chose that word.
  2. Estrella feels like she has to change who she is to fit in at her new school Sacred Heart.  Have you ever felt like you had to change who you were to be accepted? Did you change? If you did, did you feel good about that decision?
  3. Estrella changes a great deal over the course of the novel.  Describe how she changes.  Compare the things that are important to Estrella at the beginning of the book to the things she values at the end.  What do you think she’s learned?


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared 1/2013 by Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant.


2 thoughts on “Educator’s Guide: Estrella’s Quinceañera

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Estrella’s Quinceanera | Vamos a Leer

  2. Pingback: En la Clase: Teaching about Love | Vamos a Leer

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