The Jane Addams Award: Esperanza Rising

The Jane Addams children’s book award has been given annually since 1953. The award is given to books published in the preceding year who meets the criteria. In order for a book to be considered for this award it must have connections with: peace, social justice, world community, and/or the equality of the sexes and races. A basic standard to be nominated for this award is meeting the conventional standards for excellence. The award accepts fiction, non-fiction, and poetry writing styles. In 1993, a picture book category was added which opened up this award to many different books. All Jane Addams award winning books receives a certificate and cash award for their excellence. The seal for winning this award which is usually found on the cover of the awarded books are available through purchase to the publisher, school, or library.

Every year from 1963-2002 the announcing of the award winners fell on Jane Addam’s birthdate in September. Beginning in 2003, the announcing of the award was held on April 28. The significance of this date comes with the founding of the Women’s International League for Peace Freedom. Jane Addams was a co-founder and the first president of this organization. There is a huge presentation help in New York City on the third Friday in October to formally give the authors or illustrators their award.  This ceremony is fully opened to the public.

Jane Addams was a world renowned social worker. Many people know her from the extensive work she completed at the Chicago Hull House. She went on to be the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Addams had a deep passion for humanity and world peace. In 1942, the Jane Addams Peace Fund was created as a memorial to her and for hope to continue her work. Eventually the filing for the fund to become an association came about around 1948. This was the beginning of a wonderful thing to be. The Jane Addams Peace Association would be founded on the belief “to foster a better understanding between the people of the world toward the end that wars may be avoided and a more lasting peace enjoyed.” The mission of the association would ultimately be to continue the spirt of Jane Addams. She had a special “love for humanity, commitment to freedom and democracy, and devotion to world peace.” The goal of the Jane Addams Peace Association is to promote and execute projects connected to those aims.

“Esperanza Rising” was written by Pam Munoz Ryan. She got the idea for this book from her grandmother’s stories. As a young girl, Ryan heard stories about how hard her grandmother’s life was as an immigrant child. However, it was not until she learned that her grandmother actually came from wealth that Ryan was inspired. Now, it was time for the writing to begin. “Esperanza Rising” is a historical fiction novel. She used her grandma’s foundation and added a twist to bring about an amazing story. This story takes place after the Mexican Revolution, but it does not miss the Great Depression.

A twelve year old girl name Esperanza lived in Aguascalientes, Mexico with her family. Her Papa was a wealthy landowner so Esperanza wanted for nothing. Esperanza and her papa were very close. He taught her many things including how to become one with the land. Every year Esperanza had a huge birthday celebration. This year she was turning thirteen years old. However, along with her celebration came the death of her Papa.

Papa’s step brothers, Tio Luis and Tio Marco, had always been itching for Papa’s positon and possessions. There manipulative ways were shown immediately follow his death when they tried to claim ownership of all the land. Tio Luis wanted to take Mama, Esperanza’s mom, hand in marriage, but she did not accept. It was no mere coincidence that the family’s house was set to fire when she refused to play into this scandal. No one was hurt in the fire, but Abuelita, Esperanza’s grandma, hurt her ankle. The plan now was to runaway to the United States. Along with some family friends, they head out sadly leaving Abuelita behind.

Esperanza now has to face the transition of having everything she ever wanted to working for the things she needs to survive and support her family. Her new home is a shabby crowded cabin in California. Esperanza’s duties now included caring for the young and household chores. Of course she struggles in the beginning because it is all still very new to her. However, when Mama gets sick she has no choice but to step it up. It is now solely up to her to support them. Esperanza begins realizing her need for Albuelita and Mama’s need for her. Mama’s hospital bills forces Esperanza to put in long hard hours for pitiful wages.

Eventually, things begin to move into the right direction. Mama gets out of the hospital. Meanwhile, Esperanza has learns a lot about herself and she realizes she may have enough money to get Abuelita back with the family again. However, when Esperanza goes to look for the money it is all gone along with Miguel. This fuels her fire to say the least. With time Miguel arrives back to California with Albuelita. It turns out that her money actually went to the one thing she hoped for. Soon Esperanza realized she has everything she needed and her life had come in a full circle since here Papa’s death a year ago.

“Esperanza Rising” is a very empowering, encouraging, and meaningful novel for child readers. A major theme in this historical fiction novel is perseverance. The story starts with her losing one of the most important people in her life. However, through the guidance of her two roles models: Mama and Albuelita, she pushes through the impossible. Esperanza went from a dependent who lived the high life to basically an independent barley getting by. At different moments in the story one can tell she wants to give up, but she never gives up. She adapts to her surrounding and preserve in order to help her family. Social class is another theme shown throughout the novel. Often time one can see the same issues in the book in the world today. Many people of a higher social class do not understand the struggles of lower class individuals. In “Esperanza Rising,” Esperanza had a clear line drawn between where she and Miguel stood in society when they were back in Mexico. She said that they were on two different sides of the river and could not cross over. However, after her Papa’s death see soon got a glimpse or full life settling into lower class. Unlike other immigrant Esperanza had left a glamorous back in Mexico so it was much different for her. With growth and maturity she starts to realize there are a lot more important things than money. “Esperanza Rising” helps communicate the problem of prejudice in the world today. Esperanza notice that one of the store clerks, Mr. Yakota, actual treats them with respect. Often times Mexicans are labeled as “dirty greasers” while shopping for supplies. However, at this store the clerk has establish an environment where everyone is treated the same. When Esperanza realize that Americans view them as uneducated, dirty, and poor she does not understand how someone could be so stereotypical. She does not realize that she participated in these same actions when she was stuck in her “rich days.” Also it mentions how Mexicans are not allowed to swim except the day before cleaning due to their extreme dirtiness. Often time’s people do not realize just how crazy some of their view and actions are until they are the victim.

The Jane Addams book award helps promote social equality and overall peace. This award focus on some on the major problems in the world today. This award along with books like “Esperanza Rising” help introduce children to problems they are likely to encounter one day. They offer a solution and example of things we need to change/ focus on. It is also very important for minorities to see themselves in literature. “Esperanza Rising” is not only a voice for Mexicans, but a voice for all immigrants and minorities. This award shines light on books that may not be the first choice for most readers. Many of the books chosen for this award address deep rooted problems which opens up the possibilities for topics presented in children literature.

Works Cited

Ryan, Pam M. Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic Press, 2000. Print.

“Jane Addams Peace Association Children’s Book Awards.” Jane Addams Peace Association Children’s Book Awards. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

Seigfried, Charlene Haddock. “The Social Self In Jane Addams’s Prefaces And Introductions.” Transactions Of The Charles S. Peirce Society 49.2 (2013): 127-156. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.



  1. bmorrison95 · October 25, 2015

    I really enjoyed this post. I read this book when I was young and it was interesting to see all of the meanings behind the story that I had missed then. Also, you did a great job at explaining the Jane Addams award, as I had never heard of it before.


  2. jcomerford1 · November 10, 2015

    This post was extremely well written! The information on the award was really interesting. This story sounds very interesting, and makes me want to read it and have the book in my classroom. Great job!


  3. marymick · November 25, 2015

    Great job on not just focusing on the novel but also explaining the Jane Addams award as well as Jane Addams herself. Very informative. Golden.


  4. hweeks1 · December 3, 2015

    I love the novel that you chose! I read Esperanza Rising when I was in Middle School. Did you know that it was originally written in Spanish? I really appreciate how this novel is informative to young adolescents about the trials that minorities face, but also encouraging at the same time. After reading about the Jane Addams Award, this novel seems to really fit with the goals of Jane Addams and to exemplify the kind of works that the award honors.


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