Esperanza Rising

Esperanza RisingEsperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. Scholastic, 2000.  262 pages. Publisher recommends for grades 6-8. ISBN: 9780439120425.

Pura Belpre Award, 2002.

Esperanza Rising is the story of a 13-year-old young woman who must leave the fairytale life she’s lived in Mexico and go to work in the farm lands of the San Joaquin Valley of California. The book gives a gentle but clear introduction to issues surrounding immigration in this country.

Esperanza’s father owns a large ranch in Mexico. She lives in a big house with her parents and her grandmother. The ranch foreman, Alfonso and his wife, Hortensia, the maid, live close by with their son Miguel. Esperanza and Miguel had been childhood playmates. Esperanza has beautiful clothes and beautiful dolls and beautiful gardens to enjoy. She felt like a princess. But when her father is killed and her uncles try to take over the ranch, she and her mother, along with Miguel and his parents, must escape to the United States.

Alfonso’s brother Juan arranges for the five immigrants to live and work on the same ranch where he and his family work. Two women and two girls live in a shack the size of a horse stall. Esperanza still thinks of herself as a princess. The harshness of this new life is hard to comprehend. Soon Esperanza must work sorting whatever crop is being picked at the time.

The story is set in 1930. A group of farm workers in the local area talk about striking for better living and working conditions. Esperanza can’t risk losing her job by striking. Nor can the other members of her new extended family. But there’s pressure to strike, and finally the strike comes to pass. It isn’t successful, and those who were striking are deported to Mexico, regardless of whether or not they are Mexican or US citizens.

Esperanza is aware of painful discrimination against Mexicans. One camp, built for the people from Oklahoma, will have a swimming pool. Mexicans will be able to swim in it on Saturday afternoons, immediately before it is cleaned on Sunday.

At the end of the book there is a fascinating Authors Note in which Pam Munoz Ryan discusses the parallels between her grandmother’s life and Esperanza’s life.

Esperanza means hope in Spanish, and despite the difficulties associated with being a farm worker, plus the heartbreak of losing one’s home and way of life, Esperanza Rising is a hopeful book.

Blog Review: Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac


Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull.  Illustrated by Yuyi Morales.  Harcourt, Inc. 2003.  48 pages.  Publisher recommends for grades 1-3. ISBN: 9780152014377.

Cesar Chavez was born in Arizona in 1927.  He lived an idyllic life there until the drought came in 1937.  His family moved to California to become migrant workers.  Chavez was appalled by the poor working conditions, very low pay, long hours without rest or access to clean drinking water or bathrooms.  In his early 20s, Chavez devoted himself to a lifelong fight for the rights of farm workers.  The fight, in Chavez view, had to be non-violent.

Nonviolence is a powerful tool in seeking political change. Chavez was strongly influenced by the work of Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States. Chavez convinced farm workers to use the nonviolent technique of boycotting picking grapes for one of the many grape growers in the Central Valley.  He publicized his cause by marching from Delano in the Central Valley of California to Sacramento, the capital of California. When he began, only 67 other people marched with him. By the time he arrived in Sacramento, more than 300 miles away, 10,000 people were marching with him.  In the middle of the March, the grape company gave in to the boycotting farm workers and signed a contract with them.  This was the first contract for farm workers in the United States.

The illustrations are rounded and flowing in rich, deep colors. They capture the emotions of the story, from the idyllic life in Arizona to the excitement when the marchers reached Sacramento.

The last two pages of the book are called “Author’s Note” and give some adult level background about the life and work of Cesar Chavez.

This book is listed as a biography of Cesar Chavez, but it is also a vivid story about the power of nonviolence in seeking change.