Reader’s Response Journal: Esperanza Rising

Esperanza RisingCitation:

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Esperanza Rising. 2000. New York: Scholastic, 2007. Print.

Plot:

After Esperanza’s father is murdered and their house mysteriously burns down, Esperanza and her mother escape with a family of their former servants (Hortensia, Alfonzo and Miguel) in the middle of the night to avoid being caught by Tío Luis, who wants to marry Esperanza’s mother in order to increase his political status. They make the long journey to California hiding in the bed of a papaya truck and then on a dusty train, where they settle in with the family of Alfonzo’s brother to work in the fields picking fruits and vegetables. At first Esperanza has a hard time adjusting to the sudden poverty that she had never experienced before. When Esperanza’s mother falls seriously ill, Esperanza steps up and takes her place working in the fields to be able to pay the medical bills and save money to bring Abuelita from Mexico. One day, Miguel runs off and Esperanza discovers that he has stolen all of the money she saved. Esperanza’s mother recovers and Miguel eventually returns with a surprise that lifts everyone’s spirits.

Setting:

Set in the 1920s and 1930s in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and the San Joaquin Valley, California.

Point of View:

3rd person

Theme:

Coming of age, riches-to-rags, humility, poverty, corruption, racism and classism, teamwork, importance of family.

Literary Quality:

The writing is descriptive and believable, from Esperanza’s spoiled brat attitudes to her extreme worry over her mother’s health. Muñoz Ryan creatively uses fruits and vegetables as themes for each chapter, symbolizing an important event and eventually the growing season that Esperanza and her “extended family” arrange their lives around. This book won the Pura Belpré Award, was honored by the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and made multiple “best books” lists.

Cultural Authenticity:

The book is peppered with Mexican proverbs and even a traditional birthday song in Spanish, all translated to English as well. Muñoz Ryan wrote this book based on the recollections and the life of her own grandmother who immigrated to the United States to work in the migrant farm camps under similar circumstances and conditions. She researched the strikes and labor movements described in the book, the Repatriation and Deportation Acts and the Valley Fever that made Esperanza’s mother sick (and that Muñoz Ryan herself tested positive for the antibodies of due to growing up in the same valley).

Audience:

This book would be appropriate for an upper-elementary or middle school audience. It has a general appeal and a twist on the rags-to-riches theme where the wealthy are humbled instead. The Spanish language and cultural content is handled with support for the unfamiliar reader.

Personal Reaction:

This book pleasantly surprised me, because I expected a more babyish story. Instead I got a realistic look at life during this time period, with dynamic characters that had very human emotions and reactions. Esperanza’s difficulty with adjusting and her irritation with Isabel were so very well done. I had always meant to read this story and had even always heard positive reviews of it, even from students who are reluctant readers, so I am glad that I had the chance. The book was so engaging that I just ate it up.

Reader’s Response Journal: Breaking Through

Breaking ThroughCitation:

Jiménez, Francisco. Breaking Through. Carmel: Hampton-Brown, 2001. Print.

Plot:

Francisco Jiménez writes a memoir of his secondary school days in California where his family came as migrant farm workers. He and his brother were deported when he was 14, temporarily causing the family to move back to Mexico. When they return, Panchito (as he is known by his family) and his older brother Roberto work part-time jobs throughout junior high and high school to help support their family, especially since their father’s health and depression sometimes prevents him from working. Panchito does not have a lot of time for friends, but does enjoy going to dances and participating in student government. He manages to get into college and get enough scholarships (and a loan) to attend. It is difficult for his father to support Panchito in going to college, but his mother and little brother help him accept the idea, with some help from Panchito’s counselor and teacher.

Setting:

Bonetti Ranch and Santa Maria, California, in the 1950s and 60s.

Point of View:

1st person (Panchito)

Theme:

Family loyalty, respect for parents, racism, poverty, cultural pride, identity, coming of age, education as liberator.

Literary Quality:

Jiménez’s writing is clear and descriptive, with the right amount of dialogue to move the story along. The retelling of his adolescence is coherent, instead of just a string of disjointed anecdotes. This edition includes “On-Page Coach” annotations of bolded vocabulary, on-page glossaries and discussion questions. Breaking Through won the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the Pura Belpré Award, the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and made several other “best books” lists between 2001 and 2003. Fortunately, Panchito’s tale is continued in Jiménez’s two other memoirs on his childhood and young adulthood.

Cultural Authenticity:

Given that Francisco Jiménez is a cultural insider and is writing an autobiographical account, the cultural authenticity of Breaking Through is solid. He includes some expressions in Spanish, which are often explained, though not translated, in context. This edition’s on-page glossaries added translations of any words that the reader wanted clarification on. The reader gets a rich view of the life of this Mexican American family. Jiménez also showed contrast of the two cultures he was navigating by including both of his nicknames—“Panchito” with the Mexicans and “Frankie” with the Americans. He consulted with other family members to corroborate and develop some of the stories he included in the book.

Audience:

The interest level of this book is probably aimed at middle and high school readers, since these are the years of Jiménez’s life that were featured. The “On-Page Coach” notes from publisher Hampton-Brown also make the book accessible even to low-intermediate (and up) English Language Learners and reluctant readers, by simplifying idiomatic language that could be confusing. Young readers will appreciate the struggles Panchito experienced with his family and his studies and will be inspired by his dedication and hope for the future.

Personal Reaction:

This book was one that I had been meaning to read for years because of its relevance to the immigrant student population I work with. It was an enjoyable read and I was surprised by the traditional values and strong work ethic it promotes. I wondered if Panchito was really as well-behaved as he came off to be in the text. His infractions of disrespect and talking back seem benign to me (I was much sassier, as are many of the teenagers I know), but he really was a likable character that I was rooting for in the end. I was impressed by how Jiménez skillfully and subtly gave the reader looks at the racism he experienced, the fear of being revealed as an immigrant, and the confusion he had sometimes as an English Language Learner and outsider of the dominant culture.

Reader’s Response Journal: La Línea

La LineaCitation:

Jaramillo, Ann. La Línea. New Milford, Connecticut: Roaring Brook Press, 2006. Print.

Plot:

Miguel’s plans to leave Mexico and join his parents in El Norte change when his younger sister, Elena, unexpectedly joins him. The two take a bus, ride on top of freight trains, and hide under blankets in the back of a pickup to get to the border town where they meet the coyote, Moisés,who will smuggle them across the border. They narrowly escape several dangerous situations, lose much of their money and meet a Central American traveling companion along the way. A seasoned professional, Moisés prepares them and leads them on their walk across the desert, but he is shot and captured by militia halfway through the journey. On their own, they battle thirst and the elements before making it back to civilization in Southern California, barely alive. In an epilogue set ten years later, the brother and sister look back on the experience with heavy hearts.

Setting:

Contemporary time period. Set on the road between San Jacinto, Mexico, and California.

Point of View:

1st person (Miguel)

Theme:

Immigration and migration, survival, danger, coming of age, sibling relations, separation of families.

Literary Quality:

Jaramillo’s novel is fast-moving and succinct, yet filled with powerful imagery. The plot is not overridden the protagonists being assaulted with every worst-case scenario that could possibly happen, nor does it gloss over the real life-threatening perils they face. Each chapter is short, lasting no more than a couple pages and every character and description serves to move the plot forward. La Línea was honored with the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2007 and appeared on multiple “best books” lists during 2006 and 2007.

Cultural Authenticity:

The author was inspired to write this novel by the Mexican immigrant middle school students she teaches in California. She explains at the end of the book how she based the story on real situations and events. She also consulted with individuals and organizations interested in the struggle of immigrants at the border, especially the reporting of Sonia Nazario, the author of the highly acclaimed nonfiction book, Enrique’s Journey. Spanish language is integrated into the novel, often without a recasting of the English translation, yet generally comprehensible from the context. This technique gives the book the feel that the characters actually are Mexican teenagers, not just an English-speaking version of who the author imagines they are.

Audience:

La Línea is probably most appropriate for a middle school or young adult audience. It could especially appeal to reluctant readers because of its length, action and linear plot. This book might also be useful for opening dialogue around the topic of illegal immigration and undocumented children in the United States since it presents the “human side” to the story.

Personal Reaction:

This book takes me though multiple emotions: frustration, anticipation, mistrust, worry, relief, satisfaction, sadness. I love the use of Spanish and the love-hate relationship between brother and sister. I first encountered La Línea a couple years ago when I used it as a read-aloud for a READ 180 class I was teaching. As an ESL teacher, I was aware that many of my students were undocumented immigrants, but I didn’t have any idea how parallel many of their stories were to this book. I remember asking several times, “Does this really happen?” and they would confirm it with extra details of what happened to them, tell me about how they were raised by grandparents while their parents were here, or recommend similar Spanish-language movies. Jaramillo wrote a story that needed to be told!

Reader’s Response Journal: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianCitation:

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Illus. Ellen Forney. New York: Scholastic, 2007. Print.

Plot:

Junior is a Spokane Indian who decides that he will get a better education if he transfers to the nearby white high school instead of staying at the reservation high school. His choice is unpopular with his community and he even loses his best friend Rowdy. His start at Reardan High School is also rocky as he encounters racism and loneliness and tries to hide his poverty. Junior eventually makes friends with the genius kid Gordy,” begins “semi-dating” a white girl named Penelope and makes the basketball team. When Junior’s grandmother, his dad’s friend Eugene and his sister Mary die unexpectedly, Junior blames himself and questions his choice to leave the reservation for school. After Mary’s funeral, it is basketball that brings him and Rowdy back together and gives Junior some peace.

Setting:

Contemporary time period. Set in Wellpinit and Reardan, Washington.

Point of View:

1st person (Junior)

Theme:

Identity, race, hopes and dreams, friendships, maintaining tradition, death and grief.

Literary Quality:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian also won the National Book Award in 2007, among other awards and praise. Alexie created a multifaceted teen-aged character in Junior. As a budding cartoonist, Junior shows us examples of his talent, humor, angst and grief through his cartoons and drawings as well as his words. Supporting characters serve to develop the plot as well as Junior’s reaction to adversity. Alexie did a nice job balancing “teenager behavior” (like  masturbation or playing on the school basketball team) with conflicts that make Junior’s experience unique (like hitchhiking to school or Eugene’s gruesome death). Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of the book was the idea of being a “part-time Indian” and how kids that grow up bicultural sometimes don’t feel fully welcome in either culture (like Junior being called an “apple”: red on the outside, white on the inside—this really happens!) Junior’s experience will speak to kids going through the same thing, regardless of their cultural background.

Cultural Authenticity:

Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian that grew up on the reservation where this book was set. In fact, he dedicated the book to his “hometowns” of Wellpinit and Reardan, the towns featured. The main character of this book was loosely based on his own childhood experiences. The Indians seemed to be represented fairly and we see both their failures and triumphs, strengths and weaknesses throughout the book. The American Indian Library Association awarded its American Indian Youth Literature Award to this book in 2008, indicating that the book “present[s] American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts.”

Audience:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is probably most appropriate for a high school or young adult audience, due to some mild sexuality and a few tough deaths. Culturally, however, this book has a wider audience than just the Native Americans featured in it. Most teenagers will be drawn to Junior’s honest and humorous take on the world, while learning more about a subculture they might not be familiar with.

Personal Reaction:

When I came upon this book a couple years ago, it was through the recommendation of a high school boy in summer school who claimed it was “the best book he ever read.” That kind of endorsement made me pay attention, especially since it appealed to a teenaged boy (who very rarely seem to recommend books)! It is a very quick read and I think I tore through it faster this time than I did the first time because I knew it was good. Sometimes the cartoon illustrations got on my nerves because there were a few that didn’t seem to help the story, but there were others that I sat and studied for a bit before resuming reading. When I finished, I was sad to leave Junior’s world and wished that I could know more about what happens to him next.