Reading & Teaching Esperanza

My daughter is reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan in her 6th grade ELA class and since it’s been on my list of books to read for a couple of YEARS I decided to read it with her.  It is a story that draws readers in almost immediately, and one that many can identify with and that many of us can learn from.  I found the audiobook version on YouTube (see below) and plan on playing it for my younger daughter.

You can find numerous teaching resources online (here’s one from Scholastic) and it would be perfect for lessons in character, perseverance, historical fiction, immigration, the Great Depression, or Mexican culture.  I love that my daughter’s ELA teacher has parents bring in various food items that serve as chapter titles so students can try different foods.  (A more elaborate activity could be to have students/parents bring in food items for a fiesta like the one detailed in the book.  Guest speakers from the community can also be invited to talk about their immigration experience or any personal connections they might have to this time in history.)

Other topics mentioned in the book that can be further discussed

  • Class divides: Why does Esperanza say that in Mexico there’s a river between her and Miguel?  Does the same divide exist in the US?
  • Immigration, migrant workers
  • Working conditions for migrant workers: Why do workers strike? What are pros and cons of striking?
  • Segregation
  • Dust storms
  • Discussion of various symbols in the book — the mountains and valleys in the blanket Esperanza is crocheting, the meaning behind her name, etc.
  • Other books about characters that had to persevere through difficult circumstances… For example, read Listening for Lions (Gloria Whelan) or The Higher Power of Lucky (Susan Patron) and discuss similarities and differences between the stories and characters.

Audiobook: Love That Dog


Title: Love That Dog
Author: Sharon Creech
Read by: Scott Wolf
Publication Date: March 14, 2006
Publisher: HarperFestival (Unabridged Edition)
ISBN-10: 006085278X
ISBN-13: 978-0060852788
Format: Audio CD
Length: 35 minutes
Summary: In Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, a boy named Jack overcomes his skepticism about poetry. Inspired by famous poets like Robert Frost and Walter Dean Myers, Jack starts to write about his friendship with his beloved dog, Sky, and eventually reveals the grief he feels about losing it. Poems, Jack discovers, can be safe way to explore topics that might otherwise be too difficult to talk about.

Audience: Ages 8 and up

Strengths: 

  • The book is a great way to introduce poetry/free verse to someone unfamiliar to the genre or who doesn’t particularly like it. Scott Wolf, with the right amount of pauses and intonation, adds warmth and emotions to the otherwise-spare/simple text.
  • The audiobook teaches listeners how one might recite poetry and introduces them to the world of spoken word.
  • The content and length, I felt, were perfect for those new to audiobooks: too complex — the listener has a hard time keeping up; too long — the listener may lose interest and stop. Though the recommended age on various review sites was grades 4 and up, my 1st and 3rd graders sat through the entire 35 minutes entirely captivated.
  • I liked that the audiobook includes readings of some of the poems that inspired Jack’s writing. Jack’s favorite poem “Love That Boy” was read by its author, Walter Dean Myers.
  • Jack asks some good questions about poetry that kids probably have asked themselves. Readers will appreciate his honesty and confusion about this often-misunderstood genre.

Weaknesses: 

  • Though Scott Wolf has theatre experience and does a great job reading, I wonder if the book would’ve been even better read by a younger child, since the entire book was based on Jack’s journal and musings. For example, the read-along CD for Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious, The Princess of Pink Treasury was narrated by a young actress (Eliana Shaskan) who sounded the way one would imagine Pinkalicious to sound. Would Love That Dog be even more relatable had a boy read it and injected it with the attitudes/tones/expressiveness that are so unique to boys?

Uses: 

  • As an accompaniment to the book, a read-along. Listening to something while seeing the words can help reinforce reading skills and fluency. Students can make connections between written and spoken words.
  • Poetry unit — free verse vs. more structured poems — do poems have to rhyme? do they have to have certain patterns, structures, or components? Which kind of poems do students prefer? Would Love That Dog have the same impact if it rhymed? Why did the author choose free verse rather than a more structured format?
  • More practice with different types of poems. Have students write their own concrete/shape poem.
  • Poet study — have students select, then study, a favorite poet or one they are curious about. Read his/her collection of poems and pick a favorite poem. What does the student like about this poet or his/her poems? Create activities around the poet/poems.
  • Introduction to the world of spoken words. How might a reader’s tone, pauses, or attitude change how the listener interprets the poem? Have students read the same part of the book differently and see if listeners have different reactions to the words.
  • Explore different themes in the book. Discuss how the original poems addresses those themes.
  • Have students write poems about an emotion such as happiness, sadness, loneliness, and encourage them to share with the class. Or, demonstrate the power of words by having students identify themes and mood of the poem without the benefit of the title or help from the writer.

Awards/Best Books (from CLCD):