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

The Flag We Love — Tenth Anniversary Edition

The Flag We LoveThe Flag We Love – 10th Anniversary Edition.  Written by Pam Munoz Ryan.  Illustrated by Ralph Masiello.  Charlesbridge, 2006.  Publisher recommends for ages 5-8.  ISBN:  9781570917073.

First of all, let me say that this is a beautiful book.  The colors are deep and rich.  Each two-page spread has a four line poem about a particular historical aspect of the flag or a way in which the flag is used, as well as a full-page illustration of the content of the poem. Also on each two-page spread there is a box with more detailed information for older kids or for adults.  With words like “connotations,” this is not a book of five-year-old could read to him or herself. However, it would be a great book to read with a teacher or a parent.

There is a certain lack of coherence in “The Flag We Love.”  The first page, which has four lines of poetry and no box with more detailed information, seems to indicate the purpose of the book. The book will tell us of the many things the flag means to people in our country. But the very next spread is about the creation of the flag, which doesn’t address what the flag means to us. The next spread is about the flag flying above schools. The meaning of the flag flying above a school, says the book, is to let children know that in the school one can learn.  Since a public education is not a right granted in the Bill of Rights, it’s a stretch to say that the flag flies above schools to let children know they can learn at school. In fact, I always thought the flag flew above schools as part of the civics lessons given at schools that are so important in making us feel like Americans.

The spreads aren’t all muddy.  One set of pages addresses athletes competing for the United States. In this spread its clear the flag is a symbol of the country, and joins us all together on the same team rooting for the athletes who represent us.

The book, unfortunately, doesn’t hold together as a whole. But if read with an adult, it would be an excellent starting point for discussions about what the flag means to Americans and so what it means to be an American.