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Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
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Mar 25, 09

bookshelves: children-s-lit
Read in March, 2009

Esperanza Rising
By Pam Munoz Ryan
Published by Scholastic
2000
Historical Fiction

Esperanza Rising is a well written, insightful look into the struggles Mexican farm laborers faced during the Great Depression. This book is important for children to read in that it illuminates aspects of history that they may not be previously aware of. It is not just useful for teaching purposes, however. Munoz has an emotional and engaging style of writing that will captivate the reader's mind and heart.
The story centers around Esperanza, a wealthy girl of twelve, who lives on a farm in Mexico, but has never had to work a day in her life. All of this changes when her father is killed and Esperanza and her mother must escape to the United States for safety. In a Cinderella like story, Esperanza is now poor and struggling with her new surroundings and life as a farm laborer. When her Mother becomes seriously ill, Esperanza is forced to become the breadwinner. The story is one of survival, but also of personal growth and acceptance.
Munoz does an excellent job of portraying the setting of her novel. The chapter titles are named after the fruits and vegetables that are currently being harvested. The importance of the land and harvest to Esperanza's life is nicely tied in to each chapter. The chapter titles only begin to set the stage for Esperanza's life of wealth in Mexico, to her struggle to fit in as a campesino worker in California. Munoz does an excellent job of incorporating important aspects of the time and place into her novel: the treatment of Mexican-Americans, the farm conditions, the threats of strikes and the everyday life of the farm laborers. A particularly illuminating story line is that of Miguel, who cannot find work as a mechanic, even though he is highly qualified, since he is from Mexico. Jobs were instead given to the Okies who will work for less money. Another emotional and telling instance as to the treatment of Mexicans immigrants is that Isabel is not chosen as the Queen of the May simply because of her nationality. It is heartbreaking that her Mother and Esperanza both realize she will not be chosen, while Isabel still hopes and prays every day.
Munoz has taken a moment in history that may often be overlooked and brings it to children in an emotional and understandable way. Children can relate to Esperanza and her difficulty to fit in in America. When entering middle school, everything may be foreign and new to a child. A period of adjustment and learning may take place before children begin to flourish. Like Esperanza, however, they will learn the lay of the land, grow and rise above. Esperanza learns more than how to sweep or wash clothes, she learns the importance of strength, hope, family, and never giving up.
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