Non-Fiction Historical Work


Popular A Memoir:Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

Bibliographic information:

Van Wagenen, M. (2014)Popular A memoir: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. New York:Penguin Group.

Plot description:

Maya’s mom suggested Maya test and apply the tips from a popularity book written in the 1950s by a former teen model to see if they would still be useful and relevant to her as an eighth grader in the 21 century. Maya chronicles her experiences. Her family adds to her quest and Maya gives us the play by play of each experiment along with the reactions of each person she encounters, interacts with and how they influence her perspective of friendships and life in general.

Quantitative Reading Level:

Lexile: 730L

Recommended ages:  12 – 17

Suggested Grade Level: 6th grade and up

Qualitative Reading Analysis:


This is a first person narrative from the perspective of eighth grade Maya.The chapters of the Teen-age Popularity Guide are excerpted at the beginning and throughout each section along with corresponding month the tip/topic is attempted. Great photos that correspond and show Maya’s before and after.

Language demands:

A bit of Spanish is used but is explained and defined. Also there are some words from the 1950s that have changed and are clarified.

Knowledge demands:

The drug war on the border of Texas and Mexico yet this is briefly explained and the focus in not on drugs or drug use. Fashion of women in the 1950s through Maya’s photos and descriptions so the reader gets an idea of the style.


This is a self-discovery book with the aid of the advice/guidance of Betty Cornell the author of Teen-Age Popularity Guide. This selection does match the Quantitative level of ages 12 and up and 6th grade and up. I wouldn’t recommend for any younger readers as the subjects and topics may not be appropriate.

Content Area:-

English/Language Arts-writing, 1950s fashion and terminology

Content Area Standard:

CCSS English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Informational Text

Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).

Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person)

Curriculum suggestions:

In English/Language Arts course this can be used for topics such as discovering ones own identity, figuring out how teens relate to one another,family issues such as a autistic sibling, the experience of losing a sibling.  The setting of this book which is southern Texas near the border of Mexico can be a great discussion of social norms of the students school routines that involve law enforcement and drug sniffing dogs versus where they live. This title can also be used for individuals searching for their own place in this world, primarily directed at females yet males may identify with some of the male characters and their contribution to Maya’s experience.

Links to supporting digital content:

Maya’s Van Wagenen’s Resources-tips on writing and relevant topics from Popular

Thirteen ed online “Who am I? In this lesson, students reflect on this question through discussion, writing and art.”


Historical Nonfiction, Memoir


Identity discovery, teen relationships, becoming a writer, family issues: autism and death.


2015 Texas Lone Star Reading List

2015 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Winner

2015 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalists

Personal thoughts:

As a Hispanic woman I finally have read a book that I found I could relate to. This book  explains what I have been reading about why multicultural books are so important for readers. Finally I was able to identify  and see myself within the situations and experiences Maya shared as a “brown skin”, girl with a panza Spanish for belly”among other things. This book will be recommended to my daughter, sister, and my good friend who is a middle school librarian at a predominately Hispanic school so they may also have the same opportunity to see themselves in a book.




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