Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

“One day a week,’ said Hortensia, looking at Esperanza. ‘The Mexicans can only swim on Friday afternoons, before they clean the pool on Saturday mornings.’

Esperanza pounded the dough a little too hard. ‘Do they think we are dirtier than the others?'”

This gem of a book is written from the perspective of Esperanza, a young girl who begins the story on her family’s large ranch in Mexico.  She lives like a princess, surrounded by family that loves her, and enjoys many luxuries.

However, tragedy strikes and her father is murdered by renegades of the Mexican Revolution.  When her predatory uncles move in and use threats and violence to access her late father’s money and property, Esperanza and her mother become migrant pickers, moving to California and trading their beautiful mansion for a picker’s squalid living quarters.  Since it is during the Great Depression, Esperanza and her mother face not only the hardships of the migrant picker’s life, but also must compete for work with those white farmers who also migrated to California during the Dust Bowl.  There are talks of strikes, but Esperanza’s mother falls ill and Esperanza knows she must keep working in order to pay for the doctor’s bills.  Readers follow Esperanza as she learns how to perform the labor required for her her new life, makes friends, and develops a finely-tuned sense of compassion.   The novel discusses prejudice,  poverty, class struggles, the Mexican revolution, and the Great Depression-making it the perfect text for including on a unit about the time period, or in a unit about race and racism.

Pam Munoz Ryan’s ancestors lived a life very similar to Esperanza’s, and Ryan’s meticulous research creates a very authentic voice for the characters. This novel won the Pura Belpre award, among many other recognitions, including the Willa Cather award for women’s Western writing.  The Belpre award goes to a text that “celebrates the Latino cultural experience”, which is something that Ryan does, sensitively and beautifully, with Esperanza.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.pammunozryan.com/

Publisher’s website: http://www.scholastic.com/esperanza/index.htm

Ryan, Pam Munoz.  Esperanza Rising. Scholastic: New York, 2000.  262 pp (but doesn’t feel like it).  Ages 10-14. ISBN: 978-0439120425.

If you liked this book, try Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis or Becoming Naomi Leon, also by Pam Munoz Ryan.

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