Told through a series of vignettes, Esperanza Cordero narrates her life growing up as a Latina girl in a Chicago neighborhood, and her desire to grow up and leave.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In "Little Things are Big," Jesús Colón, a Puerto Rican writer of African descent, describes an interaction with a white woman that changed his point of view.
Introduce this text after students have read “Those Who Don’t” and ask them to consider the similarities and differences in how Esperanza and Jesús Colón characterize those who don’t know them. What do Esperanza and Colón wish others knew about them? How do Esperanza and Colón react to others in a similar way?
In “Fish Cheeks,” which is about a Chinese American girl who feels embarrassed by her family during dinner, Tan explores how culture can be essential to a person’s identity.
Introduce this short story after reading the chapter “A Rice Sandwich” and ask students to discuss how each text comments differently on the idea of fitting in. What is each character’s motivation at the beginning of the story/chapter? How has each character’s perspective changed by the end of the story/chapter? What comment does each author make about fitting in? How are the author’s views revealed through each character’s reaction to her situation?
In Sandra Cisneros’ poem “Abuelito Who,” the speaker describes the changing relationship with their aging grandfather.
Introduce this poem after students have read “Papa Who Wakes up Tired in the Dark.” Ask students what information they learn about “Abuelito” that informs their understanding of the chapter from The House on Mango Street. Additionally, ask students to compare Sandra Cisneros’ repetition of the word “who” throughout both texts. How does the repetition in the poem add to the characterization of each family member? What does the repetition add to the narrator or speaker’s tone towards her family members?
In Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” the speaker describes a flower that grew in an unlikely place.
After reading the chapter “Four Skinny Trees,” have students read this poem as a connection to the theme of strength despite adversity. Ask students to identify how the plants in the poem and chapter are personified. What similar characteristics does the personification of the trees/rose reveal? What larger ideas might these plants represent? How do the symbols of the plants add to the meaning of both the poem and chapter? What does each text teach about resilience?
Malala Yousafzai (born 1997) is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala is from the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban has banned girls from attending school. Malala, whose family ran a chain of local schools, publicly stood against the Taliban’s actions and launched an international movement, surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban on October 9th, 2012. The article discusses this incredible young woman and her continuing advocation for universal women’s education.
Introduce this article after students have finished reading the chapter “Beautiful and Cruel” as insight into how society defines the role of women. Ask students to compare and contrast Malala and Esperanza’s definitions of “a strong woman.” To what extent does having power as a woman mean acting like a man? How do Malala and Esperanza obtain power? What are their motivations for being powerful women?
In Daniel Beaty’s poem “Knock Knock,” the speaker describes his relationship with his father and how he is impacted by his eventual absence.
After reading “Smart Cookie,” have students read Daniel Beaty’s slam poem “Knock Knock.” Ask students to consider each author’s tone toward parental influence. What similar comments do the texts make about a parent’s role in a child’s identity? How can a parent influence the identity of his/her child? What is a parent’s role in helping a child forge his/her own identity?
Billy Collins (b. 1941) is an award-winning American poet who writes about everyday occurrences to express the deeper meaning of life. In this poem, the speaker reflects on his youth with longing.
Introduce this text after students finish reading “The Monkey Garden” and ask them to compare the speaker and the narrator’s tone towards growing up. How does each text reveal the speaker/narrator’s feelings about growing up? What specific imagery and word choice does the poet/author use to develop the meaning of each text? Ask students to identify words and images that differentiate the imagination and joys of childhood from the disappointments of growing up.
A physician who overcame a difficult upbringing meditates on the nature of his career and the relationship between medicine and public service.
After finishing the novella, have students read “Healing ‘Brick City’: A Newark Doctor Returns Home” and consider the idea of “feeling the responsibility to give back.” How are Esperanza’s feelings at the end of the novella — “I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out” — similar to Sampson Davis’ desire to give back to his hometown? How have both Davis and Esperanza’s lives in their hometowns shaped their perspectives on education? On giving back?