Esperanza Rising

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Esperanza Rising Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Historical fiction at its best in story of '30s farmworkers.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 17 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 35 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a number of Spanish words and a great deal about the lives of migrant farmworkers during the 1930s. In the author's afterward, Munoz Ryan discusses more history, including the Deportation Act of 1929 that "gave counties the power to send great numbers of Mexicans back to Mexico," regardless of their citizenship. Readers will also be introduced to strikes, discrimination, and more.

Positive Messages

Esperanza learns to adjust to a more difficult life in California -- and to sacrifice -- but also remembers to keep hope alive as she begins to work for a new future in America.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The characters in Esperanza Rising are almost all completely kind, wise, and loving. Even a farmworker that Esperanza initially doesn't like turns out to have a sympathetic cause -- and Esperanza goes out of her way to help her. The author is careful not to take sides with political issues, such as worker's strikes, letting readers to see why workers would (and would not) want to participate.


Esperanza's father is killed by bandits in Mexico and her uncle sets fire to her house and family ranch. Later, a striking farmworker throws a rock at another worker's head.


Esperanza's uncle tries to pressure her widowed mother to marry him. Also, there is a connection between Esperanza and Miguel, a former family servant. They hold hands at the end, but there's nothing explicitly romantic about their bond.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Esperanza Rising is an award-winning work of historical fiction that chronicles the life a Mexican migrant farmworker in the 1930s. In the book's beginning, Esperanza's wealthy father is killed by bandits in Mexico; then, a scheming uncle sets fire to her house and family ranch in order to pressure her widowed mother to marry him. Fleeing to California, Esperanza tries to adjust to the cramped, exhausting life of a farmworker. Thanks to a supportive family and network of friends, she keeps hope alive and begins to work for a new future. Readers will learn a number of Spanish words and about the lives of migrant farm workers during the 1930s as characters deal with strikes, discrimination, harsh living conditions, and more. There's an audiobook English edition narrated by Trini Alvarado and a Spanish edition narrated by Ruth Livier.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bygrandmareader December 18, 2018

Award-Winning Historical Fiction Book with Great Characters and Wonderful Storyline

Esperanza and her mother change their lifestyle and world views after the father is killed and Esperanza's uncles disclose their evil plans. Depiction of... Continue reading
Parent of a 11-year-old Written bydenise48 June 10, 2016

Great read!

This book gives you an insight of the struggles that people from other countries have when they come to America. It makes you appreciate what you have.
Teen, 13 years old Written byMontana.Morgaine February 28, 2019

Inspiring and Moving

My school had this book as part of the fifth grade curriculum and I loved it so much I ended up getting for my birthday the same year after begging for it for m... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old October 28, 2018

Must-Read/Heart-Breaking Book

This is a heart-breaking story/book. Mostly about family, meeting and moving. Remembering about loved ones, and working for your family. Basically, about being... Continue reading

What's the story?

Esperanza, the daughter of a wealthy grape grower in Mexico, leads a charmed life -- until bandits kill her father. One of his brothers pressures her mother to marry him, but after he burns down the ranch, Esperanza, her mother, and a family of former servants escape to California to become farmworkers. There, Esperanza must learn to work hard, which proves difficult for a girl who doesn't even know how to use a broom. After her mother is hospitalized with Valley Fever, she joins the field workers through the various crop seasons. But there is more trouble: Some Mexican farmworkers are striking, and other migrants are arriving from other areas, threatening to drive down wages. Esperanza struggles to keep her family together -- and her hope alive.

Is it any good?

This is a beautiful book that remains educational and inspirational more than a decade after its publication. Readers will sympathize with Esperanza, who must learn to work hard after living a life of luxury -- but more than that, they will be amazed by the strength she shows as she adjusts to the difficult life of a migrant farmworker. Eventualy, she begins to create her own dream for her life in California. Her story, told with Spanish expertly woven in with the English, may inspire readers to learn about their own family's immigration to America, the plight of farmworkers in the 1930s -- as well as the struggles of farm families living in America today.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Esperanza's story compares with your own family's story of immigrating to America.

  • This book won a Pura Belpré award, which, according to the American Library Association, is given to "a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth." Why do you think an award like this is necessary? Have you read any other of the winners?

  • How does Esperanza's life in California compare with the lives of farmworkers today?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love History

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