Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cook Library Scholars Experience the Journeys of "Esperanza Rising"

It doesn't matter if you’re wrong or right – you can always start over.

That was what one young Cook Library Scholar took away as the moral of the 2000 young adult novel written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising. 

This book has been the primary reading project for the Cook Library Scholars since mid-January. In its expressive, poetic style, the story follows a wealthy young girl, Esperanza, on her dramatic journey to a poor Mexican labor camp in California during the Great Depression. The sudden move was spurred by her politically driven uncle after he takes her affluent father’s life, burns her mansion to the ground, attempts to marry her mother, and eventually forces her out of her homeland. Eventually, the book celebrates her victory. Despite all of the tragedy that she experienced, and the poor conditions in which she now lives, Esperanza finds the strength to rise above it all in order to embrace her new life in the United States.

As the young Cook Library Scholars gathered around a circle to read the last few pages of this powerful saga, it was clear that they were connecting to the moral of Esperanza’s story. As the assigned readers recited in both English and Spanish, some holding hands, others peering over their friends’ shoulders to view the text within, the expressions on their faces were telling. They can relate to this hard-hitting resolution, as it is one that is very close to home for many of them. In fact, when asked the question by Miss Taylor, “Why does the book say that we should never be afraid to start over?” many eagerly raised their hands. Insightfully, some expressed that, “If you make some mistakes in your life you shouldn't be afraid to come out,” and that, “Esperanza’s life was turned around, and now she has a whole new life.” 

As a seamless conclusion to the celebration, the scholars gathered around a spread of many of the culturally rich foods that Esperanza enjoyed during her travels. The children waited in line to try things such as papaya, cantaloupe, plums, and flan. They even felt the sensation of having mashed avocado in their hands, as Esperanza did when using it to soothe a cut on her own hand. This culmination allowed the scholars, who spent two-and-a-half months reading, listening to, interpreting, and drawing the struggles of Esperanza, to now also taste her journey firsthand.

Moreover, the Cook Library Scholars program, under the umbrella of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, is similar to Esperanza Rising in the way that it aims to provide the young scholars with an equally hopeful, fresh perspective on their own lives. It promises them both a safe space as well as the resources to nurture academic achievement and intellectual growth where they otherwise may not have such a remarkable opportunity. Ultimately, not only did the scholars get a taste of the foods in Esperanza Rising, but they also learned how they can conquer any challenges that face them, both with their new experiences at the Cook Library Center, as well as with the incredible excursions that lie ahead.

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