Week Five’s CLSC Young Readers selections Esperanza Rising and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian feature protagonists who face heartbreak and hardships with resilience and determination. Esperanza and Junior, respectively, learn that looking past and understanding their circumstances are some of the only means of survival.
Both use art to cope with adversity and to discover their inner strength. Meeting under the tree in the Arts Quad at 4:15 p.m. today, young readers will have the opportunity to join students from the School of Art. The artists will discuss their work and outline how they discovered a career in the field of visual arts.
Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services, said that this week’s program is one both the young readers and artists will enjoy.
“These are very personal forms of art, and so the idea here is have young readers visit the School of Art and talk with students about the role that their craft plays — not only in their profession, but also in terms of their own inner struggle,” Ewalt said. “It is also a means to introduce Chautauquans to amazing, young artists on the grounds who are studying here and bring an honesty to work that kids can appreciate.”
Keeping with this week’s theme of “The American West,” Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Pura Belpré award-winning novel Esperanza Rising and Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award-winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, portray characters that teens can relate to, empathize with and learn from.
In the riches-to-rags tale, the death of Esperanza’s father whisks her away from a life of luxury on her family’s ranch in Mexico, to one of hard labor and financial struggles in a camp for farm workers in California during the Great Depression.
While dealing with her mother’s sudden illness, the longing for her abuelita and a looming workers’ strike that could jeopardize the family’s new life, Esperanza discovers that by working with yarn — making dolls and crocheting a blanket — she can channel her frustrations and fear.
In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, readers meet Junior, a 14-year-old with a stutter and lisp, which make him an active member of the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club.
By drawing cartoons, Junior escapes life on the Spokane, Washington, Native American reservation where poverty, alcoholism, abuse and fear plague almost everyone he knows. After making the decision to go to an all-white school, which ostracizes him from his community, Junior must muster up the courage to make it through a school year filled with tragedies. With mature subject matter, Alexie’s work is suggested for readers ages 12 and older.
While this week’s selections deal with difficult themes, Ewalt said both novels tell stories critical to truly understanding the American West during its development and present state. Ewalt said the books introduce young readers to lives that may differ from their own, and he hopes that through the books, readers can relate to struggles that every teen faces.
“I think we have an opportunity at Chautauqua where that joy of reading is celebrated above all else and it doesn’t feel like an assignment for kids,” Ewalt said. “Through that reading, they are introduced to children who are like them and have similar experiences, and yet they are challenged with stories and perspectives that may be very different from their own.”