Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

_206890SchEsperanza_0.tifReading level: 5.5
Lexile: 750
Genre: Historical fiction, realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.

First and foremost, Esperanza Rising made me grateful for the privileged life that I have and appreciative of the work that farm laborers must do to feed so many of us. While this book takes place during the Great Depression, life isn’t easy for Mexican workers today, either.

Esperanza is an excellently-written character. I was upset at her for being selfish and spoiled, but you can’t help but forgive her because that’s the only life she’s known. Her transformation into a responsible young adult is beautiful, making me suck up my insecurities and worries, because, if Esperanza can make it, so can I. More than anything, this is a story about resiliency and hope.

Because the story is short and able to be read as a class novel or in book groups, I thought of a few ways to use it in the classroom:

  • students write about struggles they have faced and overcame either before or after reading
  • listen to the audiobook instead of or in conjunction with the printed book
  • use as background information about immigration
  • use as background information about wealth inequality in Mexico and/or the US
  • possibly a good fit for students (even upper middle through high school) who are fluent in Spanish but have limited English proficiency

It actually reminds me of a simpler version of The House on Mango Street.

It is geared to younger readers, upper elementary through lower middle school, and although the reading level is low, the concepts are deep if explored and taught. There are lots of Spanish words and phrases, but each one is immediately translated, so even if you have no Spanish background, you’ll be able to understand what is being said.

It is ELL-friendly for the most part, but students of all backgrounds must understand key vocabulary such as strike, land owner, and peasant.

The only issue I see is that the story is slow-moving at times. There is always something happening and Esperanza is always growing, but there isn’t always action. Seems like kiddos these days like the fast-paced stories, but with some help getting into Esperanza and even Miguel’s heads, students could be invested in these characters and their struggles.

Esperanza Rising is my seventeenth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.