Study Guide

Bronx Masquerade Themes

By Nikki Grimes

  • Appearances

    Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? If you asked any of the kids featured in Bronx Masquerade, they'd tell you it's definitely not them. Nearly every student has something about their appearance they don't like. Whether it's physical looks or just other people's perceptions of how smart they are, the kids in Mr. Ward's class want the world to know they're more than the just what others see in them. Beauty is only skin deep, after all.

    Questions About Appearances

    1. How do ideals about race and beauty shape characters' opinions about themselves? Pick a few examples to compare and contrast.
    2. It seems like every single character in Bronx Masquerade worries about how their classmates see them. Why is that so common for high school students? What patterns do you notice across characters?
    3. Is appearance something we have control over? Use a character or two to defend your argument.

    Chew on This

    In this book, the ways boys and girls deal with appearances are different. Girls focus more on external beauty and boys are more concerned with how others perceive their attitude.

    In this book, you have to change how you see yourself before you can change how others see you.

  • Coming of Age

    Growing up is hard to do, and in Bronx Masquerade, the kids in Mr. Ward's class have faced some tough situations, including death, violence, and abandonment. Despite this, they're still just immature high school students when the new school year starts (and our book opens). Through Open Mike Fridays, though, each of the kids in class grows and changes, making progress on their paths to adulthood. Different kids might be at different stages of their journeys, but there's no doubt that these teens are destined for some grown-up success.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. How can the arts help people mature and grow? Pick a few different characters to work with.
    2. Which character do you feel has the most growing up to do at the beginning of the story? At the end? Why?
    3. What kinds of grown-up troubles are the kids in Mr. Ward's class already dealing with? How does this impact their coming of age processes?

    Chew on This

    Tyrone's growth and development is a representation of the way the entire class comes of age during the school year.

    The kids in Mr. Ward's class demonstrate that one of the biggest challenges in getting older is learning to control your impulses, especially the bad ones.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    A dream is a wish your heart makes—but sometimes dreaming isn't as simple as just wishing on a star. The kids in Mr. Ward's class don't seem to have a ton of options at the start of the school year, but they slowly learn that the future is waiting for them. As they learn about each other and themselves, these kids open up to the dreams that were already tucked away inside their hearts. Sure, turning these hopes into reality will be hard work, but they're up for it. In Bronx Masquerade, dreams are worth going for, no matter the odds.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Why might students in a low-income school district have a harder time imagining bright futures for themselves? Give evidence from the text.
    2. How do the plans the kids in Mr. Ward's class make give them a new outlook on their current lives? Be specific, please.
    3. Whose dreams do you think are most attainable? Who do you think will have a tough time making their dreams come true? Why? What differences do you notice between these characters?

    Chew on This

    Many of the kids in this story want to pursue careers in the arts because of their response to Mr. Ward's English lessons.

    Lupe expresses what all Mr. Ward's students already know: Making your dreams come true is hard work, and sometimes you have to put up a fight.

  • Family

    It's pretty well established that having family means having family drama, at least from time to time. In Bronx Masquerade, though, family can turn the drama up to eleven. In Mr. Ward's class, kids are dealing with everything from parents who abandoned them to parents who died and even relatives that are just plain mean. Even when kids have supportive family, the family ties these students have shape their lives and inform how they interact with their peers. In this way, while their families might not go to school with them, they're still a presence in the classroom.

    Questions About Family

    1. How do the actions of different students' families lead to their feelings of rejection or belonging with other people? Work with specific examples.
    2. Whose family do you admire the most? Which family would you definitely not want to be a part of? Why?
    3. Leo Tolstoy wrote, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Do you think the kids in Mr. Ward's class would agree? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Family life shapes the world of each of Mr. Ward's students more than friends or school ever will.

    Even an absent (or dead) parent plays a role in the life of their child—and not always a good one.

  • Friendship

    The Beatles got by with a little help from their friends, and we definitely do, too. There's no one quite like a friend, you know? In Bronx Masquerade, the kids in Mr. Ward's class need friends to get through the day. Whether they're navigating the mean-spirited ways of other kids or trouble at home, knowing someone understands them and has their back goes a long way. Good thing there are so many solid friend options keeping seats warm in Mr. Ward's class.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. How does friendship make life a whole lot more bearable for these high school students? Pick three different students to use as examples. What patterns do you notice?
    2. Are there any examples of toxic friendships in this book? What do these look like and how do they affect people?
    3. Which is more important—a strong family or a strong friendship? Back your answer up with evidence from the text.

    Chew on This

    In this book, friendships are formed around subtle connections instead of obvious ones.

    Unlike family, friendship is portrayed almost entirely as a positive and affirming thing.

  • Literature and Writing

    They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and we think the kids in Mr. Ward's class in Bronx Masquerade would agree. Most of these students think school doesn't relate to their lives much, but then they discover poetry. By writing and reading their own poems, these kids start to think about and express what's been inside them the whole time. These kids dig deep, identifying their problems and dreams, and growing more confident as they express themselves on the page and then read their words to their classmates.

    Questions About Literature and Writing

    1. How does reading and writing poetry help characters express what they feel inside? What barriers get broken down in the process?
    2. Do you see a connection between rap music and poetry? If so, what is it? If not, why?
    3. Have you ever written a poem? Did you feel the same way about it as Mr. Ward's class? Would you want to read your poem out loud?

    Chew on This

    The kids in Mr. Ward's class prove it's important for people to read things written by authors and poets who share their cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

    By using the names of real books and authors, Nikki Grimes encourages her readers to go out and explore the world of poetry after finishing her book.

  • Race

    Some folks say we are living a post-racial America, but don't tell that to the kids in Mr. Ward's class. Who they are—and how society sees them—are big deals for these students. Black kids, white kids, and Latino kids all mix together in Bronx Masquerade, but they all have unique views on how race shapes their lives. Lots of people don't like to talk about race, but Mr. Ward's students know it's essential for navigating the world around them. Good thing poetry gives them an outlet.

    Questions About Race

    1. What does Tyrone learn about race and how he sees other people? What does he learn about his own racial identity?
    2. Why do you think Sheila tries so hard to fit in with black kids? What do you think of this? What does it reveal about race and the way it works in our society?
    3. How does each character struggle with their racial identity? What patterns do you notice?

    Chew on This

    Mr. Ward's students may come from diverse backgrounds, but their thoughts on race, inclusion, and tolerance evolve in very similar ways over the course of the story.

    Race is a social construct (meaning it was created by people), but it still has a powerful hold on our characters.

  • Transformation

    Yawn. School can be so boring, right? Mr. Ward's students definitely think so as the school year begins in Bronx Masquerade. But then Open Mike Fridays begin, and everything changes. As the kids in Mr. Ward's class open up about who they truly are, they start to see themselves differently, and they also start to view their classmates in a new light. As an added bonus, their feelings about school shift, and they start to really care about their time there, particularly in Mr. Ward's class. With poems in hands, these caterpillars transform into butterflies in no time.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. Are all transformations good ones? Can people try to change into something they're not? Use characters from the book to support your answer.
    2. Why do you think Tyrone spends a lot of time pre-judging people? What judgments do you make about him because of this? Does he pre-judge less as the book goes on?
    3. Which character goes through the biggest transformation throughout the story? Why? What's different about their transformation compared to those of others?

    Chew on This

    Art is a very limited tool for changing the way people and society see you.

    Art is an excellent tool for changing the way people and society see you.