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Cisneros, Sandra. (1991). The House on Mango Street. New York: Knopf. 128 pp.

Grade Range: 6-12

Genre: contemporary fiction

Summary and Critique

    Cisneros writes short vignette-style stories, describing the experiences and memories of a young girl, Esperanza, growing up in an inner-city Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza gives voice to a multitude of characters who otherwise would remain invisible to many readers: poor-but-proud boys and girls, oppressed-but-hopeful men and women who live their lives in the small geography of Mango Street. The book portrays Esperanza's coming-of-age while attending Catholic school, making friends, and generally recording wise observations of the lives of those around her. In the end, the young teen comes to see herself for who she is, a storyteller.

    This book has many layers of meaning, both literal and symbolic, and can be understood by young adult readers of all ages. Cisneros'poetic, stream-of-consciousness style, keen insights, and matter-of-fact assertions make this book highly readable and very memorable. Each short chapter is almost self-contained, dense, and lyrical as poetry. Teachers would do well to provide cultural information on the setting and Spanish-language references for those students needing this background information. Critics have praised this book for its appeal to wide audiences, strong female narrator, and tight prose.

Awards

    Columbus Foundation's American Book Award in 1985

Themes/Topics

    Families

    Friends and Enemies

    Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

    Challenges and Triumphs

    Love, Sex, and Romance

    The Indivdual vs. Society

Author Information

    Sandra Cisneros is an internationally known Chicana author and poet. Born in 1954 in Chicago, Cisneros went on to write many acclaimed and award-winning books. The House on Mango Street has sold over two million copies and is often on required reading lists in schools. She now lives in San Antonio, Texas.

For more information on Sandra Cisneros:

Media Connections

Movies

    My Family/Mi Familia (1995) – Explores the struggles and triumphs of three generations of a Mexican-American family, beginning with one man's emigration from Mexico to Los Angeles in the 1930s and concluding with his descendants in the 1990s. Interesting to discuss the dilemmas and gifts of being bicultural.

    Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life) (1994) This movie details the hard lives and friendship found among four young Chicana women in inner-city L.A.

    And the Earth Did Not Swallow Him (1995) Coming-of-age story of a young boy who was a Chicano migrant worker in the 1950's.

    A Home of our Own (1993). An Anglo widow and her family learn to deal with poverty, while being proud of who they are. Good for discussing the themes of family pride/family values, despite being poor.

    Ruby in Paradise (1993) A reflective young adult, Ruby, carves out a new identity and learns to be independent. There are several good scenes where Ruby keeps a journal, and the voice-over reveals her poetic, insightful thoughts.

Television

George Lopez (ABC) This sitcom is about a Mexican-American family living in Los Angeles.

Music

"Summertime." Performed by Billie Holliday. Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. From Lady Day: Best of. Sony, 2001. This classic blues song talks about spreading your wings and flying, which is a good metaphor for Esperanza's life.

Online Resources

Related Texts

    Rice, David. (2003). Crazy Loco: Stories. New York: Penguin. 144pp. Short stories about Mexican-Americans in the Texas Rio Grande valley. These well-written, powerful stories will appeal to teenagers of all ages.

    Hoobler, Dorothy & Thomas. (1994). The Mexican-American Family Album. New York: Oxford University Press. 127pp. This nonfiction book illustrates the legacy and heritage of Mexican-American immigrants. It discusses their hardships and the gifts they bring to American culture. Primarily for grades 6-9.

    Jimenez, Francisco. (2001). Breaking Through. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 195pp. Autobiographical coming-of-age story of a young Mexican-American immigrant in the 1950's. This book encompasses many emotions, including humor and sadness. The reader will gain insight into the true story of a migrant teenager. Grades 6-12.

    Lopez, Tiffany Ana. (1993). Growing Up Chicana/o. New York: Morrow. 272pp. Young adult short-story anthology. Revealing and hopeful, these short stories and essays are written by major Chicano/a writers. Many of these stories have been published elsewhere are reprinted in this unique volume. This book is recommended for high-school students.

    Stavans, Ilan, ed. (2001). Wachale! Poetry and Prose about Growing up Latino. Chicago: Cricket Books. 146pp. This anthology includes poetry and prose from a wide variety of Latino authors. Students can also learn about each author through its accompanying autobiography, so it functions as a reference book on Latino authors, as well. Grades 6-12.

    Carlson, Lori M. (1994). Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States (Edge Books). New York: Holt & Company. 123pp. These poems are written by both notable and up-and-coming Latin American writers on a variety of topics to which Teens can relate. A wide collection of topics and styles are represented here. Grades 6-12.

    Walker, Alice. (1982). The Color Purple. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanavich. 245pp. The main character, Celie, endures years of domestic violence and learns to rise above her circumstances. The themes of searching for identity and empowerment are similar to Mango Street. Recommended for high school readers.

Teaching Ideas

    (1) "Lessons from Life" Students will identify lessons that can be learned from Mango Street, as well as create their own short"Lessons from Life." First, discuss and record with students some inferences that can be made on the life lessons that Esperanza deals with during her adolescense. Share with students Life's Little Instruction Books. Have students design their lessons based on wisdom from their parents and other adults, as Esperanza did in her observations of those around her. Students can interview these elders and family. After quotations are collected, bind them together as your own book to share with others. [Adapted from To Kill a Mockingbird and Lessons from Life" by Joan E. Hoffman in Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. March 1998, p. 4-5].

    (2) "I Remember..." Discuss with students how Esperanza records her most precious and vivid memories in poetic prose. Have students write a memory poem in free verse using poetic language similar to Cisneros'view of her world. Start with"I can remember" or a similar phrase. Have students brainstorm their personal experiences and times they had strong emotions. Be sure they include sensory details, as Cisneros did. Have each detail as a separate line. Begin each line with the same phrase or refrain"I remember…." Or,"I'll always remember…." Students can share their poems. Evaluate the poem based on effort. [Adapted from "Writing an ‘I Remember'List Poem" by Richard J. Butler in Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Counicl of Teachers of English. December, 1995, p. 3-4].

    (3) "Stations" For middle-school students, set up four different stations around the room with enrichment materials and biographical items (printouts, pictures, art prints related to the topic, pertinent magazine and newspaper articles). Once a week have students choose a station. The Teens can read, summarize the text, and take notes on items that interest them. Use the information from the centers on your weekly assessment or end-of-book quiz/test. Students can answer an open-ended prompt (e.g.,"Make a connection with something you have read."). They can also create their own display, for extra credit. [Adapted from "Around the Room" by Karen R. Bowie in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Counicl of Teachers of English. January, 2003, p. 5].

(Review written by Peggy Semingson and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)

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