This post includes English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It’s part of a series that shares English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club for gifted and talented students, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
Why Esperanza Rising?
- Touching historical fiction that follows a young woman’s immigration from Mexico to the United States during the Great Depression
- A story that challenges readers to think about how people’s lives and perspectives change when they face great loss
- Examines the real-world issues of immigration, racism and poverty
- Strong use of literary devices including symbolism, foreshadowing and imagery
- Exploration of social emotional topics such as death, grief, patience, resilience, responsibility, and optimism
- Interdisciplinary connections in agriculture, mythology, history, and disease.
About the Book
Esperanza begins her life as the privileged daughter of a wealthy ranch owner in Mexico. Her life is forever changed when tragedy strikes her family and she and her mother must flee to the United States. With little money or possessions, Esperanza finds herself in a land rife with poverty, desperation and depression. However, with the love of family and friends and the will to work hard and not give up, Esperanza conquers the mountains and valleys that life presents her.
Readers will find themselves immersed in this inspiring tale of a girl who loses the things she treasures most but finds her true self in the process.
About the Author
Pam Muñoz Ryan has written many books for children and young adults. She wrote Esperanza Rising in 2000 to tell the story of her Mexican grandmother’s journey and life in America during the Great Depression. The novel won the Pura Belpré medal in 2002. Some of her other well-known works include Echo, When Marian Sang, Riding Freedom,and Painting the Wind. She currently resides near San Diego, California with her husband.
Have you taught Esperanza Rising?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- At the beginning of the book, six year old Esperanza is among the grape vines with her father. He tells her that the earth is alive and that you can hear its heartbeat if you listen closely. Esperanza is unable to hear the beating beneath the earth and her father tells her: “Wait a little while and the fruit will fall into your hand. You must be patient, Esperanza”(2).
- Why do you think Esperanza’s father wants her to listen for the heartbeat of the earth?
- What does Esperanza’s father mean by “the fruit will fall into her hand”?
- Why is patience so important? Give examples of how patience is shown in the book.
- In the story, Esperanza says she understands that “Miguel [is] the housekeeper’s son and she [is] the ranch owner’s daughter and between them [runs] a deep river” (18).
- What do you think the “river” represents to Esperanza in the story?
- Later when Miguel talks of going to the United States he says, “You were right, Esperanza. In México we stand on different sides of the river” (37). Does Miguel think it will be different in the U.S.? Why or why not?
- When Esperanza refuses to let the little girl on the train play with her doll, Mamá scolds Esperanza saying, “When you scorn these people, you scorn Miguel, Hortnesia, and Alfonso. And you embarrass me and yourself. As difficult as it is to accept, our lives are different now” (70).
- What does the doll mean to Esperanza? Why does she value it so much?
- Why do you think Esperanza is so reluctant to let the girl play with her doll?
- Do you think that Esperanza’s mom is right to scold her? Why or why not?
- What does Mamá want Esperanza to understand about their new life?
- Esperanza compares her mother’s illness to a valley, wondering “[Will] she ever escape this valley she [is] living in? This valley of Mamá being sick?”(160). How is Esperanza’s life in the United States like mountains and valleys? Give specific examples (other than Mama’s illness) of the ups and downs Esperanza experiences.
- Esperanza becomes increasingly infuriated by the racism that she and other people of color experience in the camps. She finally explodes, telling Miguel: “Is this the better life that you left Mexico for? Is it? Nothing is right here! … They send people back to Mexico even if they don’t belong there, just for speaking up. We live in a horse stall. And none of this bothers you?” (221).
- How would you feel if you were treated unfairly and unjustly, based only on the color of your skin?
- What are other examples in the text of ways that Mexican Americans were victims of prejudice or racism?
- We know that Esperanza’s life is much harder in the United States, but how has Miguel’s life changed? Do you think it is harder or easier? Give examples from the text to support your thinking.
- At the end of the novel, Pam Muñoz Ryan includes an author’s note. This section details the story of her grandmother, the real Esperanza, who had experiences similar to those of the character in the story. Ryan writes, “When I was a young girl, Grandma used to tell me what her life was like when she first came to the United States from Mexico” (255).
- Why do you think the author includes this note at the end of the novel?
- What parts of the novel were the same as Ryan’s grandmother’s real life and what parts were different?
- In what ways did the author’s note change your perspective of Esperanza’s story?
- The last line of the author’s note reads, “It is no wonder that in Spanish, esperanza means ‘hope’” (262). What are examples of the idea of hope in the novel?
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
The Immigrant Experience During the Great Depression
- An overview of the history of The Great Depression
- An exploration of the lives of Mexican immigrant workers during the Great depression
- An investigation of why and how many U.S. Citizens were unlawfully deported to Mexico during the 1930s due to Mexican repatriation
The Storms that Cause the Fever
- An introduction to how and why dust storms occur
- An explanation of how these storms cause Valley Fever
- An investigation of why more dust storms have been occurring in the Southwest over the last few years
- An opportunity to explore the connection between climate change and Valley Fever in the present-day United States
Dig up Information on Farming in California
- A summary of the history of farming in California
- An examination of a what farming was like during The Great Depression
- An opportunity to discover when crops grow and are harvested in California using a harvest calendar
- An investigation into the current agriculture industry of the Central Valley of California
- An exploration of an interactive map of California agriculture in 1920
Rising from the Ashes
- An introduction to the mythological symbol of the phoenix
- An investigation into the different variations of the phoenix myth
- The opportunity to read a version of The Story of the Phoenix