Esperanza means hope, and hope is what Esperanza needs, to help her rise above the wreckage of her life in Mexico, and learn to survive in the hardscrabble fields of California.
I remember when I was very young, and the world was good and safe. I lived on the Rancho de las Rosas in Mexico, with my Papa, my Mama, and my Abuelita. We had a wonderful vineyard, and every year, after the grapes were delivered to the winery, we had a fiesta, and my birthday party. But the year I turned 13, all that changed, as my world fell apart. Papa and his vaqueros were ambushed and killed the day before my birthday while mending fences on the farthest reaches of the rancho.
But that was not the end of the changes. When Papa’s will was read, we learned that while Mama owned the house and the vineyards, the land they were on belonged to Papa’s brother, Tio Luis. He wanted Mama to marry him, and run the rancho with him as she did with Papa, but she said no — never. Only days later, the house and the vineyards burned to the ground. We knew that Tio Luis had arranged for the fire, to frighten Mama into marrying him. But Mama was angry, not frightened, and began to make plans.
We would go with Hortensia, Alfonso, and their son, Miguel, our friends and servants, to the United States and escape from Uncle Tio and all his horrible plans for us. Abuelita, my grandmother, who’d been injured in the fire, would live at the convent until she was well enough to join us.
We thought the United States would help us live a better life than the one we would have had with Tio Luis. But we worked long hours in the fields and lived in work camps in poverty I couldn’t have imagined only months before. We couldn’t speak English, and no one offered to help us learn. I remembered Abuelita’s myth about the phoenix, a beautiful bird that is reborn from its own ashes, rising above them. Our life in the United States had been born of the ashes of our rancho, but could anything wonderful ever come of the lives we were now forced to live? We could never go back to our old way of life in Mexico, but could we rise up again in this new country?

This Booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart

Pam Munoz reads from Esperanza Rising:

Great Depression Slideshow: View a summary of some key events that occured during the Great Depression era, brought to you by Scholastic.

Life on the Border: View this slideshow from PBS Teachers to learn about border life for Mexican natives.
Esperanza Rising Webquest: Explore themes in the novel by completing this interactive webquest!

Esperanza Rising Activities: Choose one of the following activity suggestions for your group's project.

Migrant Camp Webquest: See what life was like during the Great Depression for migrant workers by exploring these links.

Esperanza Rising Topics for Discussion: This link will take you to various historical and cultural topics explored in the novel.

Explore Mexico: Because our novel takes place partly south of the border, check out this webquest and explore our neighbors to the south.

Immigration Game: Answer the questions and see what you know about various immigrants to America from around the world.

Mexico History and Culture: Use this website to explore Mexican culture and geography.

The Storm that Swept Mexico: A look at the Mexican Revolution through PBS.

About the Author: Pam Munoz Ryan on Esperanza Rising:

An Interview with Pam Munoz Ryan