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Esperanza rising, p.15
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       Esperanza Rising, p.15

           Pam Muñoz Ryan
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  A: My dad restores old trunks — the antique steamer type of trunks. He takes them apart, piece by piece, polishes, paints, and lines them with cedar and old-fashioned wallpaper. They’re spectacular. I have four in my home and all of my children have their own. What makes them special is the time he put into them for us.

  Q: Do you have a writing routine? If so, what are some of your writing habits?

  A: When I’m working on a book, especially a novel, I’ll get up early, make coffee, eat breakfast, and head straight for the computer. My office is in an extra bedroom of our home. I’ll often work straight through until about 2:00, with several trips to the kitchen for snacks and drinks. I always feel more creative and energetic during the early part of the day and feel less so in the afternoons. I’m definitely a morning person. I hear other authors talk about staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and I can’t imagine doing that. I almost always take a walk at some point during the day, either at the beach or in the neighborhood.

  Q: Where do your ideas come from?

  A: Ideas come from a confluence of rivers that meet in a roiling white water in my mind.

  Make Your Own Jamaica Flower Punch

  (Hibiscus Flower Punch)

  Recipe from Pam Muñoz Ryan


  30 single red hibiscus blooms, rinsed well. (If you can’t find hibiscus flowers, try using 6 hibiscus flavored tea teabags)

  ½ oz. fresh ginger root (rinsed, patted dry, and then grated)

  3 quarts of water

  juice from 6 limes

  sugar for sweetening

  Boil the ginger in one quart of water for about 2 minutes. Add the hibiscus blooms (or tea bags), remove from heat and cover. When the liquid is cool, strain it into a pitcher or large bowl. Add the remaining water and lime juice. Sweeten to suit your taste. Chill and serve.

  Making Mama’s Yarn Doll

  Mama made a yarn doll for the child on the train (much to Esperanza’s chagrin at the time). You can create one, too!

  You’ll need a ball of yarn, scissors, a ruler, and a book (at least the size of this one, no smaller) to wrap the yarn around.

  1. Cut 7 12"-long pieces of yarn and set them aside. You’ll use these later.

  2. Holding the ball of yarn in one hand and the book in the other, wrap the yarn around the book from top to bottom 50 times. Then cut the yarn to separate it from the ball.

  3. Use one of the 12" pieces of yarn and place it between the book and the yarn. (Imagine you are putting the yarn through the center of a doughnut.) Tightly tie together the 50 strands of yarn wrapped around the book.

  4. Pull the yarn off the book. Hold the yarn loop so the tie is at the top. This will be the top of your doll’s head. Tie another 12" piece of yarn an inch or two below the first one, gathering all 100 strands of yarn to create a round head. Tie it tightly with a double knot.

  5. Cut the yarn loops apart at the end opposite the head. These strands of yarn will be used to make the doll’s body and limbs.

  6. Separate the yarn below the head into three sections — two arms (12 strands each) and the torso (26 strands). Tie a 12" piece of yarn around the middle section, 2 inches below the head, to form the doll’s torso. Remember to leave the arms free.

  7. Separate the bottom yarn below the torso into two legs. Braid each arm and leg and use the 4 remaining 12" pieces of yarn to tie at each end. Leave at least an inch of loose yarn at the ends as hands and feet. Trim any stray yarn.

  Now your yarn doll is complete!

  Those Familiar Sayings

  Esperanza’s father says to her, “Aguántate tantito y la fruta caerá en tu mano. Wait a little while and the fruit will fall into your hand.” This is a proverb, a saying that guides or advises. Most proverbs are passed down verbally, and the origins of many proverbs are unknown. Almost every culture and country has proverbs or sayings that are used on a regular basis. Have you ever heard: “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” or “Like father, like son”? These are proverbs, too. Pam Muñoz Ryan offers a few Mexican proverbs at the beginning of this book, and below is an additional sampling from Mexican Sayings: The Treasure of a People by Octavio A. Ballesteros, Ed. D. and María del Carmen Ballesteros, M. Ed. Whether your family is from Aguascalientes, Mexico, or Florence, Italy, or Tulsa, Oklahoma, there are probably proverbs to be found, considered, and talked about. Some may be funny, others more thoughtful. What proverbs do you know?

  No hay rosa sin espinas.

  There is not a rose without thorns.

  Quien adelante no mira, atrás se queda.

  The person who does not look ahead stays behind.

  El sabio muda consejo, el necio, no.

  The wise man changes his opinion, the foolish man does not.

  What Story Do You Have to Tell?

  Even though Pam Muñoz Ryan was born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley, the same place her character Esperanza migrates to, it isn’t where her story begins. Pam’s life, like Esperanza’s, was shaped by those who came before her. As members of a family — big or small — our stories start with the history of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.

  Esperanza traveled from Mexico to Southern California and Abuelita from Spain to Mexico. If you look at a map you can track their journeys and see for yourself the distances they traveled. Did your family’s story start in another country, state, or town? Talk to your parents or grandparents, learn where they (and you) come from, and track your own family’s journey.

  And while you’ve got your family talking, reminiscing, and remembering, ask them to tell you about their experiences (maybe even take notes!). Then just as Pam Muñoz Ryan did, build on that information — investigate your family, find old family photographs, hop on the web to dig up tidbits about the cities or towns where family members have lived. And when you have various pieces to play with, begin to tell your story.

  Turn the page for a sneak peek at another award-winning novel by Pam Muñoz Ryan!

  From Becoming Naomi León

  by Pam Muñoz Ryan

  a rabble of yesterdays

  I always thought the biggest problem in my life was my name, Naomi Soledad León Outlaw, but little did I know that it was the least of my troubles, or that someday I would live up to it.

  It had been a double month of Sundays since Gram, Owen, and I were knitted together snug as a new mitten. I can point a stick, though, at the exact evening we started to unravel, at the precise moment when I felt like that dog in an old Saturday morning cartoon. The one where the mutt wears a big wooly sweater and a fox runs up and pulls a hanging-down piece of yarn. Then the fox races off with it, undoing the tidy stitches one by one. Pretty soon the poor dog is bare to its skin, shivering, and all that had kept it warm is nothing more than a bedraggled string.

  a paddling of ducks

  There we were, minding our lives with the same obedience as a clock ticking. A few weeks earlier the sun had switched to its winter bedtime, so even though it was early evening, the sky was dark as pine pitch. That meant that Gram, Owen, and I couldn’t sit outside on the white rock patio. Instead we had to crowd around the drop-down table in the living room/kitchen of Baby Beluga. That was what Gram called our Airstream trailer. She was the absolute expert at calling things what they resembled and thought it looked like a miniature whale next to all the double-wides at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho.

  The trailer park was called this because it was surrounded on three sides by the largest avocado ranch in Lemon Tree, California. The name Lemon Tree did not appeal to Gram’s sense of description because, as she pointed out, there wasn’t a stick of citrus in sight. A giant plastic lemon did sit on a pedestal at the Spray ’n Play, a combination car wash–deli–playground and one of our favorite places. That lemon was a tribute to the fact that there used to be fruit orchards in San Diego County, before the builders came and put a house on every scratch of spare dirt. Except for the avocado grove, which was smack in the middle
of town and the last countrified land in Lemon Tree.

  We had already put away the dinner dishes from Wednesday chicken bake and Owen started racing through his second-grade homework like a horse on a tear. People were usually fooled by his looks and thought he was low in school due to being born with his head tilted to one side and scrunched down next to his shoulder. It had straightened a little after three surgeries at Children’s Hospital, but he still talked with a permanent frog voice because of something inside being pinched. One of his legs was shorter than the other so he walked like a rocking horse, but other than that, he was just fine. Contrary to people’s first opinions, he got the best grades in his class.

  Gram, in her usual polyester pantsuit and running shoes, was doing her weekly hair set, rolling what little blue hair she had on those new bristle curlers that require no hairpins. (I was not being mean about her hair. It really looked blue in the sunlight.) And I mulled over my sorry situation at school, which was three boys in my fifth-grade class who had decided that Outlaw was the funniest last name in the universe. They did not give me an ounce of peace.

  “Have you robbed any banks lately?” was one of their favorite sayings, along with jumping out at me, throwing their arms in the air, and yelling, “Is this a stickup?”

  My teacher, Ms. Morimoto, said to ignore them, but I had tried and it did no good. I was fed up, so I was making a list of what I could say back to them that might be embarrassing. I wrote across the top of my notebook page, “How to Get Boys to Stop Making Fun of My Name.”

  I scooted my book in front of Gram to see if she had any ideas.

  “Naomi, I have lived with that name since I married your great-grandpa, rest his soul, almost fifty years ago, and I am due proud. Besides, there are worse things in life.”

  “But you don’t go to Buena Vista Elementary,” I said.

  She laughed. “That’s true, but I can tell you that boys have not changed an iota and they are hard to humble. You know my true feelings on the subject. How about writing, ‘Those boys will not bother me’?”

  Gram said that when you thought positive, you could make things happen, and when it did happen, it was called a self-prophecy. If you wanted to be the best speller in the class, you said to yourself over and over, “I am the best speller in the class,” and then before you knew it, you were practicing and becoming it. It was sort of like magic, and Gram believed it to her bones. But it didn’t always work the way I hoped. At one time Owen and I were the only children in the trailer park. I thought positive every day for a month for more kids at Avocado Acres but all that moved in was a family with a teenager and a brand-new baby. Gram insisted my positive thinking had succeeded, but I had been greatly disappointed.

  Before I could write down Gram’s suggestion, Owen sneezed, and it was a big one, the kind that sprinkled spittle and left his eyes all teary.

  “Owen, you got it on my page!” I said, smoothing my paper, which only smeared the wet spots.

  “Sorry,” he said, and then he sneezed again.

  “Company’s comin’ twice,” said Gram, matter-of-fact. It was another of her Oklahoma notions, and she had a million of them that she believed whole heart. This one being if a body sneezed, someone would pay a visit.

  “We already know for sure that Fabiola’s coming over,” said Owen.

  Fabiola Morales lived with her husband, Bernardo, just a stone’s throw away in the middle of the avocado grove. Bernardo took care of the three hundred trees, and in return he didn’t have to pay rent on their tiny house. Fabiola and Gram were newly retired from Walker Gordon department store, where they had worked for thirty-five years as seamstresses, doing alterations with their sewing tables face-to-face. If that wasn’t enough familiarity, Fabiola came over every night, Monday through Friday, to watch Wheel of Fortune. So far, Gram and Fabiola had watched 743 during-the-week episodes without missing once. It was their claim to fame.

  “Well then, Fabiola counts for one,” said Gram, patting a curler in place. “I wonder who’ll be the other?”

  I looked at Owen and rolled my eyes. A fly zooming in would fulfill Gram’s prediction.

  “Maybe Mrs. Maloney?” said Owen.

  Mrs. Maloney was eighty-eight and lived in the double-wide next door. She came out every afternoon to water her cactuses, rocks, and cement bunnies, and only then did she ever come over for a visit. Gram said we could count on Mrs. Maloney for two things in life: one was wearing the same pink-checked cotton robe every day (I suspected she had a dozen hanging in her closet), and the other was going to bed at six in the evening.

  “Nope, it won’t be Mrs. Maloney,” I said. “It’s past six.”

  Chewing on the end of my pencil, I got back to my list, which Gram said was one of the things I did best. I had all kinds of lists in my notebook, the shortest being “Things I Am Good At” which consisted of 1) Soap carving, 2) Worrying, and 3) Making lists.

  There was my “Regular and Everyday Worries” list, which included 1) Gram was going to die because she was old, 2) Owen would never be right, 3) I will forget something if I don’t make a list, 4) I will lose my lists, and 5) Abominations. I made lists of splendid words, types of rocks, books I read, and unusual names. Not to mention the lists I had copied, including “Baby Animal Names,” “Breeds of Horses,” and my current favorite, “Animal Groups from The Complete and Unabridged Animal Kingdom with over 200 Photographs.”

  Mr. Marble, the librarian and the absolute best person at Buena Vista Elementary, gave me the book yesterday when I walked into the library at lunchtime. He said, “Naomi Outlaw (he always calls me both names), today is your lucky day. I have a treasure for you and I’ve already checked it out on your card. I give this to you with a flourish.” Then he scooped the book into his palms, knelt down on one knee, and held it out to me as if it was a box of jewels. (I added flourish to my “Splendid Words” list.)

  Mr. Marble allowed me and two other students to eat lunch at one of the oval library tables every day. It was breaking school rules to eat there, but Mr. Marble didn’t mind. He just smiled at us, straightened his bow tie, and said, “Welcome to the sanctuary.” (Sanctuary also went straight to “Splendid Words.”) John Lee was one of the library lunch students. His parents owned Lemon Tree Donuts. He was the roundest boy at Buena Vista Elementary, and one of the nicest. The other was Mimi Messmaker. (Her name was on my “Unusual Names” list, along with Delaney Pickle, Brian Bearbrother, and Phoebe Lively.) Mimi didn’t hang out with all the other girls in our grade either, the ones who were always comparing makeup and going to sleepovers. She was nobody special at school, just like me, but she didn’t know it. She had no use for me and once whispered, “trailer trash” when I walked by. After that I never said a word to her, and that suited us both.

  “Naomi,” said Gram, “is there a page in your notebook titled ‘Ways to Annoy My Gram’? Because if there is, I’d appreciate it if you’d add your unruly bangs to that list.”

  I quickly reached up and corralled a triangle of hair hanging in my eyes. I was trying to let my hair grow all one length, but in order to keep my bangs pinned back I needed three clips on each side. Gram had taken to calling me “brown shaggy dog” because of my wild mop and my predisposition to brown-ness (eyes, hair, and skin). I took after the Mexican side of the family, or so I’d been told, and even though Owen was my full-blooded brother, he took after the Oklahoma lot. He did have brown eyes like me, but with fair skin and blond hair in a bowl haircut that Gram called a Dutch boy. Due to my coloring, Owen called me the center of a peanut butter sandwich between two pieces of white bread, meaning him and Gram.

  “Thank you for making your old granny happy,” said Gram, tucking a stray lock of hair behind my ear.

  “You’re not that old,” I said.

  She laughed. “Naomi, I am your great-grandma and according to most folks, I had no business raising you and Owen. Those who carried gossip said I had one foot in the grave and should’ve known better, but I took yo
u on like spring cleaning anyhow. The joke was on everyone else because I got the prizes. That was my lucky day when I got you two.”

  Owen looked up from his binder. “Today’s my lucky day. Guess what’s one of my spelling words? Bicycle!”

  Any coincidence in Owen’s life, such as wanting a new bicycle and having the word show up on his spelling list, made him feel lucky. Whistling, he started writing bicycle over and over on a piece of paper.

  Gram finished rolling her hair, leaving lines of white scalp staring at us.

  “My clown head is on,” she announced.

  Owen and I never argued with that description because the yellow and purple curlers did give that effect. Gram clicked the television remote to find the tail end of the nightly news. I closed my notebook, giving up for now on my list and knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to say boo to those boys anyway. I reached into the built-in cabinet above my head and pulled out the plastic salad bowl holding my latest soap carving.

  When Owen and I first came to live with Gram, I had slipped into being silent and my hands shook all the time. I was too young to remember what caused it all, but Gram’s practical solution was to keep my mind and hands busy. Soap carving had been Bernardo’s idea, and he said I was born to it. He would work in his shed doing his hobby, making wood boxes and little miniature bookshelves, then painting them every bright color with scenes of little towns and sunsets. It was art from his city, Oaxaca, far away in Mexico. And I would sit next to him with a bar of soap and a carving tool. Gram was nervous to death about me using a knife, so Bernardo started me out with a bent paper clip. As I proved my worth, I graduated to a plastic knife, a butter knife, and finally, a paring knife.

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