Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Module 3: Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising begins over a decade after the Mexican Revolution. Esperanza is the daughter of a wealthy Mexican land owner. As the book begins, Esperanza’s father is killed by bandits leaving Esperanza and her mother destitute. Following the lead of their former servants, Esperanza and her mother travel to California to work on a company farm. In her new life Esperanza is awakened to the differences between wealth and responsibility. In the beginning, she struggles with her life of labor and poverty. Eventually she grows to be a good worker, and is content with her simple life because she is surrounded by people she loves.

Esperanza Rising is a great read for young adults and not so young adults. This book expresses some really valuable themes. We learn that money isn’t everything, and there is a limit to what a person should do for money. Poverty comes with great struggle, but the poor can still live blessed and fulfilled lives. Esperanza Rising also does a really great job illustrating the struggle of manual laborers, particularly in the depression era. The book is not an overt history lesson, but the reader gets a great sense of the era.

Review: Books R4 Teens
In Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan tells the story of Esperanza Ortega, only daughter of a wealthy Mexican landowner and his wife. The story begins in 1924 in Aguascalientes, Mexico, on El Rancho de las Rosas, the ranch where Esperanza's father cultivates grapes and raises cattle. The day before Esperanza turns twelve, her beloved Papi is killed by bandits, and the girl's life of wealth, privilege, and security is shattered. Esperanza and her mother leave Aguascalientes with the people who were previously their servants and travel by train to California. There, they find work on a company farm, picking and packing produce. Esperanza and her extended family struggle through the hardships of the Depression- and Dust Bowl-era United States, and they even begin to flourish in the land of opportunity.
As the plight of immigrants and migrant workers continues to be of concern for many of us living in the Southwestern United States, this book speaks to adolescents from a variety of backgrounds. The occasional Spanish phrase increases the level of authenticity in the story, and Ryan is always careful to translate the phrases so that even someone who does not speak Spanish may easily comprehend. This book is an excellent choice for anyone interested in the Depression-era United States, the change in fortunes of immigrants from Mexico to the U.S., or the life of migrant workers in the past and present.

Suggested Activities
In a library book club, I would read Grapes of Wrath along with Esperanza Rising. Readers can discuss the similarities and differences between both groups of central characters setting out for farm work in California.

Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic Press, 2000. ISBN: 0439120411.

Harris, J.M. (2005). [Review of the book Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan]. Books R4 Teens. Retrieved from: http://www.edb.utexas.edu/resources/booksR4teens/book_reviews/book_reviews.php?book_id=29

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