Ryan, P.M.  (2000).  Esperanza Rising.  New York, NY: Scholastic.2002 Pura Belpre Author Award2001 ALA Notable Children’s BookInterest Level: 5-8Reading Level: 6.2Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical FictionSubjects: Mexican Americans, Agricultural laborers, California, Family, Migrants

Ryan, P.M. (2000). Esperanza Rising. New York, NY: Scholastic.
2002 Pura Belpre Author Award
2001 ALA Notable Children’s Book
Interest Level: 5-8
Reading Level: 6.2
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Subjects: Mexican Americans, Agricultural laborers, California, Family, Migrants

“Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe?” – Papa

Thirteen year old Esperanza Ortega leaves her ranch home in Aquascalientes, Mexico and life of luxury after her Papa dies in a fire set by her two uncles so they can have the land and hopefully one will marry Esperanza’s mother. For Esperanza, her mother, and her Abuelita (grandmother) this is not a life any of them desire. Esperanza and her mother are able to escpae as migrants to the United States in the cover of night, but unfortunately must leave Abuelita behind. When they arrive in Arden, Califonria during the great depression of the 1930’s, they make due with residence with Miguel, the son of a previous worker for Esperanza’s Papa. Esperanza thrown from luxury to now a life of poverty and manual labor her adjustments aren’t easy, but she learns to take care of the house chores and the two babies. When Esperanza’s mother falls ill with Central Valley Fever, Esperanza begins working the farms to pay for her mother’s medical bills and saving money to help bring her Abuelita to California. Miguel, a family friend steals Esperanza’s money to go to Mexico and bring Esperanza’s Abuelita to the United States to help lift the spirits of Esperanza’s sick mother. As hope was restored to Esperanza and her mother, Esperanza learns that wealth is not only determined by material goods, but family, friends, health, home, and gratitude.

Esperanza Rising offers historical and cultural events for readers to learn and experience as they follow along with the daily experience of Mexican immigrant farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley in California with the dreams of a better life than previously in Mexico, and the inequalities of living conditions between Okies (migrant workers from Oklahoma) and the Mexicans were astonishing, such as the Okies having hot water and bathrooms in their housing and a swimming pool in their camp. The discriminations faced by Mexicans are shocking to read as Esperanza first experienced them, such as when Isabel was not awarded the Queen of May because she was not white. In the story the reader learns about the “voluntary” deportation of Mexicans regardless if United States citizens or not during the early 1900’s and Esperanza Rising is a wonderful book to read in conjunction with teaching these historical events.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan has a very beautiful message regarding family values as well as non-family showing empathy for others and can teach the idea of how racial stereotypes can occur in many forms and cause great suffering. Reading personal stories, which may often occur in fiction format, can emotionally affect the reader as Esperanza Rising successfully does by providing the reader with insight to the pains of individuals from diverse cultures. Other similar realistic fiction titles for tween include Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

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