Happy Friday, y’all!
I hope you are surviving this summer heat. We are starting to look ahead a bit to the fall (my favorite season!) and all the wonderful things coming like college football and pumpkins everywhere.
Today I am sharing a review of a recent buddy read with my sister. She’s an elementary school teacher and we’re reading a few books together on her summer break that she is considering using in her classroom in the fall. This one was immediately one of my new favorites and I will be buying it the first chance I get! 🙂
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a book I have recognized for years but have never read. I absolutely loved this Newbery Honor winner novel about a young girl building a new life far from home.
- This book was published in 2000 and still resonates so strongly today. It is a story of a refugee family who seek a better life together in America during the Great Depression. The difficulties and hardships Esperanza and her family must overcome are enormous. But what she learns along the way is invaluable.
- The chapters with harvest fruits and veggies was very clever. I enjoyed seeing the passage time through those harvests and what Esperanza experienced and learned during each one.
- I would recommend this book for upper middle grade readers and older. There are some violent moments, death and intense scenes.
According to Goodreads, “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.”
I loved Esperanza and her narrative voice. She sees the world very different from the start of the novel to the end. And she isn’t perfect — making mistakes, holding grudges, feeling sorry for herself. She felt so realistic because of her imperfections. At first, she feels so entitled to wealth and luxury. But I enjoyed seeing how her perspective changed during the story. Esperanza had to navigate tough change and her voice throughout is engaging. At first, she was stuck up about her social standing like when she won’t let the little girl on the train touch her doll. Her discomfort is clear and you can feel it as the reader. But she changes. She experiences embarrassment and hardship like when she discovers she doesn’t know how to sweep a floor or when she goes to work in the fields. Those experiences change Espeanza as she becomes so loving and selfless. I love her relationship with her mother and how that is the foundation for her life both in Mexico and California. Despite her challenges, Esperanza’s voice is youthful and hopeful. A brilliant perspective on this time period.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is that the author bases this story on the real experiences of her grandmother. I loved the family connection! There is so much interesting background on this time period and on Mexican history. I was surprised by how much corruption there already was in Mexico in the 1930s. Their journey to California is so dangerous! The California fruit farms offered poor living and working conditions. I couldn’t believe how little the workers made in a day for all their hard work. The tension about strikes and higher wages was very interesting too. I think telling these details from Espeanza’s perspective helped me see the value of both sides of the debate. People were not so different from each other; they all wanted to provide for their families. But the ways they wanted to help those they loved were vastly different.
This book discusses a lot of difficult topics but with grace and engaging details. Esperanza has many challenges in her life like losing her home, father, and lifestyle in a matter of days. The difficult hours and working conditions on the farms. Those conflicts about wages and deportation and strikes. Sickness and cold in cramped living quarters. Fear, death, grief, and pain. Esperanza experiences it all! Yet these hard topics are told through a child’s perspective giving us more hope and healing in this story that I expected. As Esperanza changes her understanding of how to interact with others, I think readers can too.
I loved this book! The writing and story are so engaging and teach such important lessons. Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish, and I felt like that was the main theme of the book. Regardless of difficulties, trials, and tragedies, we can hold onto hope. God is aware of us and leading us along. Esperanza ultimately chooses to hope for a better future for her family and that message is a beautiful one!
What are some of your favorite refugee stories for middle grade readers?
Any favorite Newbery Honor books?