Esperanza Rising



Last updated Friday, March 30, 2007

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Date of Publication: 2000
ISBN: 0439120411
Grade Level: 5th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Apr. 2007

Synopsis: From Publisher's Weekly: Told in a lyrical, fairy tale - like style, Ryan's (riding Freedom) robust novel set in 1930 captures a Mexican girl's fall from riches, her immigration to California and her growing awareness of class and ethnic tensions. Thirteen-year-old Esperanza Ortega and her family are part of Mexico's wealthy, land-owning class in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Her father is a generous and well-loved man who gives his servants land and housing. Early in the novel, bandits kill Esperanza's father, and her corrupt uncles threaten to usurp their home. Their servants help her and her mother flee to the United States, but they must leave Esperanza's beloved Abuelita (grandmother) behind until they can send for her. Ryan poetically conveys Esperanza's ties to the land by crafting her story to the rhythms of the seasons. Each chapter's title takes its name from the fruits Esperanza and her countrymen harvest, firs in Aguascalientes, then in California's San Joaquin Valley. Ryan fluidly juxtaposes world events (Mexico's post-revolution tensions, the arrival of Oklahoma's Dust Bowl victims and the struggles between the U.S. government and Mexican workers trying to organize) with one family's will to survive - while introducing readers to Spanish words and Mexican customs. Readers will be swept up by vivid descriptions of California dust storms or by the police crackdown on a labor strike ("The picket signs lay on the ground, discarded, and like a mass of marbles that had already been hit, the strikers scattered?"). Ryan delivers subtle metaphors via Abuelita's pearl's of wisdom, and not until story's end will readers recognize how carefully they have been strung.

Note to readers:
•  This is a chapter book, but the text is not dense and it should read quickly. Begin at chapter one and read as far as you can until 11:00.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Are any of your parents or grandparents farmers, or were they farmers before they came to Los Angeles?
•  Do you know why your family came to the Los Angeles?
•  How is life here different from where your family came from?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  When does this story take place?
•  What is Esperanza’s life like in Mexico? What does she do?
•  How are the land and farming important to her family? How does the land help her family? How does her family feel about the land?
•  How do the land and farming help all of us?
•  Answer any questions that may come up during reading.

Craft ideas:
•  On a grid (provided) create a wordsearch puzzle. Start with some of the words for different kinds of produce, and then fill in random letters to hide the words. Keep a record of the “answers”: the words you started with. Trade wordsearch puzzles with another student.
•  Make a list across the top of a piece of paper of some of your favorite foods. Then, under each food, write what parts of it come from plants. Draw some illustrations for your lists.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!