Esperanza Rising

Pam Munoz Ryan. Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2000

external image Esperanza_Rising_4.jpg"No hay rosa sin espinas" (14). There is no rose without thorns. This Spanish proverb says it all for Esperanza Ortega, a young, privileged girl living with her family on El Rancho de las Rosas in Aguascalientes, Mexico during the Depression era in the early 1930's. Esperanza leads a content life filled with familial love, close friends and material possessions. These are all provided to her because of her father's successful ranch. However the good life is not available to everyone in Mexico, and the man who owns land and makes a good living can find himself in harms way at the hands of those who want the same. Just imagine how Esperanza, who wears beautiful dresses, and has servants to wait on her, feels when her world takes a drastic turn. Esperanza means hope in Spanish which is exactly what this family will need when their lives are traumatically torn apart due to a series of circumstances that leave them homeless and poor. Pam Muñoz Ryan writes this award-winning historical fiction that details the hardships this family faces and the spiritual journey of Esperanza who goes from riches to rags and finds what it means to be truly happy in life.

A major part of Esperanza's sense of security is her relationship with her father, whom she calls Papa. Papa is the one who teaches her about the land and what it has given their family. "Our land is alive, Eperanza...Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe? That you can feel its heart beating?" (1). When bandits kill Papa, because of the resentment against large land owners, and a fire destroys their home and possessions. Esperanza, at the tender age of thirteen, is forced to flee her life of pampered comfort along with her mother, and travel to Bakersfield, California where they survive the best they can as migrant farm workers. With this new life on the horizon Esperanza aches for the comfort of her father and her grandmother, Abuelita, who had to stay in Mexico due to poor health. Esperanza quickly learns the value of family and friends as her mother falls ill with Valley Fever and a labor strike is threatened against the camp they are working on.

This story explores the many conflicts that Esperanza experiences when she is suddenly thrust from her privileged life. Esperanza Rising also looks beyond the story and into the historical, social and cultural circumstances that help to account for the contradictions that Esperanza discovers when she arrives in the United States. The old adage that "everything is relative," is a great motto for this book. The perspective of a rich person, and conversely a poor person, can be seen through the lens of one person in this riches-to-rags tale. Esperanza's transition is truly what makes this a one of a kind piece of literature that is unique, and presents many valuable life lessons. In many ways, this transition is an education in itself in which Esperanza learns how to do menial labor, but also learns that the most important things in life are not material possessions and status, but the people who you interact with. The frustration Esperanza feels when moving into a work camp in California is expressed as she speaks with her mother: "How can you sing? How can you be happy?" (103). Esperanza finally comes to realize that the best things in life are free and is overjoyed when her grandmother Abuelita arrives: Esperanza rocked her back and forth, daring to believe that it was true, looking at her through tears to make sure she was not dreaming...(240). Although everything begins in a perfect, dream-like world, things can change and bad things can happen. However, people can always overcome bad moments and continue to dream and hope. This novel harps on the importance of perserverance and determination in order to overcome and achieve. Esperanza Rising also gives a brilliant depiction showing that indeed the best things in life are free.

Esperanza Rising is a great read-aloud book that will keep students engaged from start to finish. This is also an excellent choice to use for Literature Circles as there are so many intregal themes; perseverance, family, social class, wealth and poverty that will enable students to have indepth discussions about the choices the Ortega family had to make. In addition, the book includes Spanish words and phrases in the text that may draw the English learner into the storyline.

About the Author

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Pam Muñoz Ryan considers herself an ethnic smorgasboard and for that reason also considers herself a true American. Born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley in California, Ryan's cultural background is composed of Spanish, Mexican, Basque, Italian and Oklahoman. This wide variety of cultural identities allows Ryan to identify with America's "melting pot" composition and relate to the diverse audience who read her books (Ryan Biography).

Ryan has written over twenty-five books under the young novel genre. Esperanza Rising is considered one of Ryan's finest novels and recieved several honors and recognition for her work. These include winning the Pura Belpre Medal, the Jane Addams Peace Award, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, and the Americas Award Honor Book (Ryan Biography). Esperanza Rising is based heavily on the life of Ryan as a child, but also has a lot to do with her her Mexican grandmother. Ryan's grandmother would often times tell Ryan about her childhood experiences and Ryan used these elements to help bolster her story. This strong use of cultural background and personal experience is one of the key components within Ryan's writing.

Strangely enough, it was air conditioning that drove Ryan to her love of books. As a child, Ryan would ride her bike down to the library hoping to escape the heat and enjoy the air conditioning of the library, a convenience the Ryan's did not have in their home. While lounging in the library, Ryan began to read books and from there her love for books never ceased (Ryan Biography). Ryan continued onto college, where she graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor's degree in education. Ryan eventually became a bilingual teacher, but eventually quit having to raise her three children. As time went on, Ryan decided to go back to school to obtain her master's degree and it was there that a professor encouraged her to go into writing (Scholastic Biography).

Currently, Ryan lives in Leucadia, California with her four teenage children and two dogs near the Pacific Ocean, where she continues to use writing as a profession and a relaxation tool. (Newman Feature)


Esperanza Review (includes lesson plan for Reading with Understanding)
Online quizzes (website for story comprehension)
Map (map and flag description of Aguascalientes, Mexico)
Deportation of migrant workers ( an article by USA Today about the 1930's anti-immigrant campaign)
Vocabulary (Scholastic website with vocabulary boosters for Esperanza Rising)
Teaching ESL students (complete lesson plan unit for teaching Esperanza Rising to fourth grade ESL students)
EdHelper (great website for teachers with lessons for grades 4-8)
A story of hope (website dedicated to books for girls)
Webquest (a fifth grade webquest for Esperanza Rising)
Immigration ( a website on Comprehensive Immigration Reform)
Scholastic (Find out what it means to be an immigrant in the early 20th century)

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