Study Guide

The Circuit Quotes

  • Family

    We spent that night underneath the eucalyptus trees. We gathered leaves from the trees, which smelled like sweet gum, and piled them to lie on. Roberto and I slept between Papá and Mamá. (1.24)

    Francisco's family is close-knit. They've just arrived in California, only to find that they can't get work just yet. Now they're worried, and all they can do is wait. But all this stress can't tear this family apart—just take a look at how they're all sleeping together in their homemade beds. It's pretty sweet.

    "Sí, Papá," I answered timidly. I was hurt and confused. Seeking comfort, I walked over to Roberto and whispered to him, "Someday, I will get to go pick cotton with you, Papá, and Mamá. Then I won't be left alone." Roberto put his arm around me and nodded his head. (2.12)

    Oh boy, Francisco is in trouble. Instead of babysitting his little brother, Francisco wanted to prove that he could pick cotton too—but when his parents get mad, Francisco feels seriously down in the dumps. It stinks to disappoint your parents, and now Francisco knows just what that feels like. Hey, at least he's got his big bro to make him feel better. Looks like sibling and parent relationships can be pretty different in this book.

    When the baby was finally born, Roberto, Trampita, and I were excited to see him, especially because we had worked so hard to get things ready for him. Papá and Mamá named him Juan Manuel, but we all called him Torito, or little bull, because he weighed ten pounds at birth. […] Whenever I changed his diaper, I made him laugh by tickling his stomach. (4.10)

    Francisco is getting to be a great older brother. When his little brother Torito is born, he's helpful as can be, right down to changing his diapers. Now we'd call that dedication. What do you think about Francisco's attitude toward his growing family? It sounds to us like he's super excited to get a new sibling—and he doesn't even complain here about all the work.

    Her eyes were full of tears. Papá, who was sitting next to her on the mattress, lifted its corner and pulled out from underneath the white embroidered handkerchief. He tenderly handed it to Mamá, saying, "Feliz Navidad, vieja." (6.17)

    Francisco's parents have a super strong relationship, and though they go through plenty of tough times together, no matter what they stick by each other. So when Papá gives his wife a sweet gift for Christmas, it's just another sign of how extremely supportive this couple is. They might be short on cash, but not on love for each other. Aw…

    El Perico immediately threw a tantrum and began shrieking, louder than ever. The noise struck my father like lightning. He had been in a terrible mood the last few days because he was not sure where we would work, now that the grape season was almost over. Covering his ears with his hands, he bolted to the corner of the garage, grabbed the broom, and swung with all his might at my friend, who was perched on the wire. Red, green, and yellow feathers scattered everywhere. El Perico hit the dirt floor like a wet rag. Instantly Roberto, Mamá, and I started wailing. (7.5)

    Sometimes family members do things we don't like, which Francisco learns the hard way. When the family parrot throws a huge fit, Papá gets super heated. And that means bye-bye Mr. Parrot. In his defense, though, Papá has his reasons for being on edge. He's trying to keep all his kiddos fed, and work is scarce so he's scared about what's coming in the future. Looks like each of Francisco's family members have different things to be upset about these days.

    They each took a row. I went ahead about a quarter of the way into Papá's row. I took my hands out of my pockets and started picking and piling the cotton in the furrow. Within seconds my toes were numb and I could hardly move my fingers. My hands were turning red and purple. I kept blowing on them, trying to keep warm. […] I could not go on. Frustrated and disappointed, I walked over to Papá. He straightened up and looked down at me. His eyes were red and watery from the cold. Before I said anything, he looked at Roberto, who bravely kept on picking, and told me to go over to the fire. I knew then I had not yet earned my own cotton sack. (8.33)

    When it comes to cotton picking, his mom, dad, and big bro are all pretty great and get their own cotton sacks, but poor Francisco hasn't earned his own sack yet. And when he fails to pick enough cotton on a freezing cold day, it looks like he hasn't won dad's approval either. This family may know how to stick together, but that doesn't mean there's not a little competition mixed in with all the love.

    Since I could not sleep, I decided to get up and join Papá and Roberto at breakfast. I sat at the table across from Roberto, but I kept my head down. I did not want to look up and face him. I knew he was sad. He was not going to school today. […]

    When Papá and Roberto left for work, I felt relief. (9.24-25)

    Roberto and Francisco are great buddies, but they have their differences too. And one of the main differences is that Francisco gets to go to school during cotton season and Roberto doesn't. Can you tell how guilty Francisco feels here? With all his head hanging, we're thinking he feels badly about getting an opportunity his brother has to miss out on. What do you think makes Francisco feel so bad here?

    Papá pushed me along, handing me several handfuls of strawberries he picked from my row. With his help, I got through that long day. (10.60)

    Francisco is having a rough day—his new pal Gabriel has just been fired, and Carlos has been a huge jerk when it comes to playing kick-the-can. But with his dad's help, our main chap gets through this tough time. Sure, he and his old man may not see eye to eye on everything, but this is one sweet moment where they work together to get the job done.

    "So you see, mi'jito, Rorra is more important than the pennies. Don't be so hard on your little sister."

    Mamá's story calmed me down a little, but I was still angry at Rorra. I took a deep breath and went back inside to our room. (11.56-57)

    When Francisco's little sis takes his two favorite pennies to buy gumballs, he is angry as all get-out—and that anger doesn't subside all at once. His mom tells him a sweet story about how his sis is more important than pennies—and he probably knows this is true—but that doesn't mean he's going to feel all lovey dovey for Rorra right away.

    I glanced at Papá and Mamá. They were beaming. "You got a job!" I cried out.

    "Yes. Mr. Sims offered me the janitorial job at Main Street School," he answered, grinning from ear to ear.

    […]

    Being careful with his back, Papá stood up slowly and hugged her gently. He then turned to Roberto and said, "Education pays off, mi'jo. I am proud of you."

    […]

    After supper, I sat at the table to do my homework. I was so excited about Roberto's new job that it was difficult to focus. (12.74-79)

    Everyone is stoked when Roberto gets a new job. This lets us know that the whole family is invested in each other—they all want Roberto to succeed, and Roberto knows that his success sure will help out his family.

  • Disappointment

    "Sí, Papá," I answered timidly. I was hurt and confused. Seeking comfort, I walked over to Roberto and whispered to him, "Someday, I will get to go pick cotton with you, Papá, and Mamá. Then I won't be left alone." (2.12)

    Francisco has had his first big bummer in California: not getting to work alongside his family. While his mom, dad, and big brother head off to pick cotton, Francisco has to stay in the car and watch the baby—and when he tries to prove he can pick cotton like the rest of his family, he just gets in big trouble. So now he's super sad.

    I knew I had no chance, but I stubbornly held on to my jacket. He pulled on one of the sleeves so hard that it ripped at the shoulder. He pulled on the right pocket and it ripped. Then Miss Scalapino's face appeared above. She pushed Curtis off of me and grabbed me by the back of the collar and picked me up off the ground. It took all the power I had not to cry. (3.22)

    Poor Francisco. Mr. Sims, the principal, was so nice to give him a jacket from the used bin, and now Curtis is tearing it up. What do you think makes Francisco so bummed about this? Is it about him being beaten up? Is it about the jacket? Or is there something else going on here?

    One night as we were praying, Torito got worse. He stiffened and clenched his arms and legs, and his eyes rolled back. Saliva dribbled from both sides of his mouth. His lips turned purple. He stopped breathing. Thinking he was dead, I started crying hysterically. Roberto and Mamá did too. […]

    No one slept well that night. Torito woke up crying several times. The next morning, Mamá's eyes were puffy and red. (4.16-17)

    Torito gets sick, and it's seriously scary. No one is hiding just how sad Torito's illness makes them, and it sounds like most of the family is pretty overwhelmed by their grief. Looks like the only silver lining is that the whole family is in this rough little pickle together.

    I got my hat on and walked out the door, hoping to meet Miguelito so we could walk to school together. I could not wait to catch fish with him in the afternoon, but he did not show up, and I did not see him at school all day. When I returned home from school this afternoon, I went to see if he was waiting for me by the creek. He was not there either. Then I remembered his cabin number. I hurried to number twenty and knocked on the door. No one answered. I went around to the side of the cabin and peaked through the window. The cabin was completely empty. My heart sank into my stomach. Slowly I walked home, feeling a lump in my throat. I heard Miguelito's laugh in my head and thought about our game with the puddles. (5.17)

    When Francisco's one friend in Corcoran disappears, he's super disappointed. Did you notice how physical his sadness is here? He tells us about how his "heart sank into my stomach" and he has a "lump in my throat." What do you think about this experience of grief? Does Francisco experience other forms of disappointment that aren't so physical?

    At dawn, my brothers and I scrambled to get the presents that had been placed next to our shoes. I picked mine up and nervously tore at the butcher-paper wrapping: a bag of candy. Roberto, Trampita, and Torito looked sadly at me and at each other. They, too, had received a bag of candy. Searching for words to tell Mamá how I felt, I looked up at her. Her eyes were full of tears. (6.17-18)

    When Christmas comes around, it seems like everyone in Francisco's family is disappointed. Right out the gate, take a look at Mamá—she's clearly not feeling too hot while she's wrapping those gifts. Then check out all her kiddos—they're not looking too pleased with their bags of candy. We're thinking that there's plenty of sadness to go around on this holiday. What do you think the characters are so disappointed about? Is it just the presents? And is Mamá sad about the same things as her kiddos?

    El Perico hit the dirt floor like a wet rag. Instantly Roberto, Mamá, and I started wailing. My father shouted at all of us to stop. Seeing a stream of blood dribble from El Perico's silent beak, I felt as though someone had ripped my heart out. I threw the garage door open and darted out, running as fast as I could toward a storage shed that was about half a mile away. The shouting, screaming, and crying from our home chased me. I wanted to escape, to die. (7.5)

    When his parrot dies, Francisco's super upset. Take a look at his reaction: he cries and runs away. We've seen Francisco experience some physical sadness before, and here it is again, since he feels like someone has "ripped my heart out." Ouch.

    They each took a row. I went ahead about a quarter of the way into Papá's row. I took my hands out of my pockets and started picking and piling the cotton in the furrow. Within seconds my toes were numb and I could hardly move my fingers. My hands were turning red and purple. I kept blowing on them, trying to keep warm. […] I could not go on. Frustrated and disappointed, I walked over to Papá. He straightened up and looked down at me. His eyes were red and watery from the cold. Before I said anything, he looked at Roberto, who bravely kept on picking, and told me to go over to the fire. I knew then I had not yet earned my own cotton sack. (8.33)

    Picture this: it's a freezing cold day. Seriously—it's so cold your hands are turning to ice. And on top of that you're trying to pick cotton. With your bare hands. We'd call that a tough challenge, but Francisco thinks he's up to the task. But since he tries so hard, it just makes it even more of a bummer when he fails. Big time.

    The following morning, when Ito told us that the contratista had gotten Gabriel fired and sent back to Mexico, I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I could not concentrate on work. At times I found myself not moving at all. By the time I had picked one crate, Papá had picked two. He finished his row, started a second, and caught up to me.

    "What's the matter, Panchito?" he asked. "You're moving too slow. You need to speed it up."

    "I keep thinking about Gabriel," I answered.

    "What Díaz did was wrong, and someday he'll pay for it, if not in this life, in the next one," he said. "Gabriel did what he had to do." (10.56-59)

    After Gabriel stands up for himself to the contratista (labor contractor), he gets fired. Francisco takes the news pretty hard, and his disappointment lets us know that he's a really compassionate guy—when those around him are sad or hurt, he's often feeling sad or hurt too.

    Then, for a long time, I thought about my librito and what Mamá had said. I could see in my mind every word, every number, every rule, I had written in my note pad. I knew everything in it by heart. Mamá was right. It was not all lost. (11.79)

    One of Francisco's biggest disappointments is when his notepad burns up in the house fire. But there's also a silver lining: Francisco learns that not all disappointments are permanent. In fact, the notepad getting burned up teaches Francisco about just how much he's learned so far.

    She was interrupted by a knock at the door. When she opened it, I could see Mr. Denevi, the principal, and a man standing behind him. The instant I saw the green uniform, I panicked. I wanted to run, but my legs would not move. I began to tremble and could feel my heart pounding against my chest as though it wanted to escape too. Miss Ehlis and the immigration officer walked up to me. Putting her right hand on my shoulder, and looking up at the officers, she said sadly, "This is him." My eyes clouded. I stood up and followed the immigration officer out of the classroom and into his car marked "Border Patrol." I sat in the front seat as the officer drove down Broadway to Santa Maria High School to pick up Roberto. (12.87)

    This is the biggest bummer yet. After all the time Francisco and his family spend working so hard in California, Border Patrol catches up with them. Since these are the last lines of the book, do you think The Circuit is ultimately just a sad story? Or in the big picture, are there more happy moments than disappointments?

  • Language and Communication

    "I remember being hit on the wrists with a twelve-inch ruler because I did not follow directions in class," Roberto answered in a mildly angry tone when I asked him about his first year of school. "But how could I?" he continued. "The teacher gave them in English." […]

    "So what did you do?" I asked, rubbing my wrists.

    "I always guessed what the teacher wanted me to do. And when she did not use the ruler on me, I knew I had guessed right," he responded. "Some of the kids made fun of me when I tried to say something in English and got it wrong," he went on. "I had to repeat first grade."

    I wish I had not asked him, but he was the only one in the family, including Papá and Mamá, who had attended school. I walked away. I did not speak or understand English either, and I already felt anxious. (3.1-4)

    For Roberto, not knowing English is rough—and when we say rough, we mean the getting beaten in school kind. Yikes, right? All this lets us know just how much pressure there is on Roberto and Francisco to learn English, and how little support they get.

    Miss Scalapino started speaking to the class and I did not understand a word she was saying. The more she spoke, the more anxious I became. By the end of the day, I was very tired of hearing Miss Scalapino talk because the sounds made no sense to me. I thought that perhaps by paying close attention, I would begin to understand, but I did not. I only got a headache, and that night, when I went to bed, I heard her voice in my head. (3.12)

    Francisco's first crack at learning English is a bust. If you ask us, he's sounding pretty negative about the whole experience, and we can't saw we blame him. Miss Scalapino isn't trying to teach Francisco at all, and she just lets him listen along and doesn't worry that he can't understand the words.

    But when I spoke to Arthur in Spanish and Miss Scalapino heard me, she said "No!" with body and soul. Her head turned left and right a hundred times a second, and her index finger moved from side to side as fast as a windshield wiper on a rainy day. "English, English," she repeated. Arthur avoided me whenever she was around. (3.17)

    Sheesh, not being able to speak his native language is even costing Francisco some friends. When he tries to chat with his pal Arthur in Spanish, Miss Scalapino is not having it. Why do you think she gets so angry? And how do you think her reaction impacts Francisco's feelings toward that new language he's supposed to be learning?

    On Wednesday, May 23, a few days before the end of the school year, Miss Scalapino took me by surprise. After we were all sitting down and she had taken roll, she called for everyone's attention. I did not understand what she said, but I heard her say my name as she held up a blue ribbon. She then picked up my drawing of the butterfly that had disappeared weeks before and held it up for everyone to see. She walked up to me and handed me the drawing and the silk blue ribbon that had the number one printed on it in gold. I knew then I had received first prize for my drawing. I was so proud I felt like bursting out of my skin. (3.28)

    Francisco may not be able to understand what Miss Scalapino says, but there are other ways to communicate too. Francisco reads Miss S's non-verbal signals here, and understands his victory perfectly.

    The shadows cast by the dim light made the circles under her eyes look even darker. As she began to wrap the gifts, silent tears ran down her cheeks. I did not know why.

    At dawn, my brothers and I scrambled to get the presents that have been placed next to our shoes. I picked mine up and nervously tore at the butcher-paper wrapping: a bag of candy. Roberto, Trampita, and Torito looked sadly at me and at each other. They, too, had received a bag of candy. Searching for words to tell Mamá how I felt, I looked up at her. Her eyes were full of tears. (6.17)

    So it's Christmas time and no one is happy about these candy gifts. Mamá and Papá don't have the money to buy Francisco the ball he wants, and even though Papá has been talking about them being broke, our main man can't quite see the big picture. So when he sees his Mamá crying, he can't figure out what she's so upset about. And when he gets disappointed about the candy, he just doesn't know what to say to his parents. Even with family, sometimes communication is just plain hard.

    At sunset we drove into a labor camp near Fresno. Since Papá did not speak English, Mamá asked the camp foreman if he needed any more workers. "We don't need no more," said the foreman, scratching his head. "Check with Sullivan down the road. Can't miss him. He lives in a big white house with a fence around it."

    When we got there, Mamá walked up to the house. […] The porch light went on and a tall, husky man came out. They exchanged a few words. After the man went in, Mamá clasped her hands and hurried back to the car. "We have work!" (9.13-14)

    Most of Francisco's family doesn't speak English, so when it comes to finding new jobs, they need to work together. And when they come across English-speaking folks, Mamá gets to show off her language skills and find her family some new work. Go team.

    Mr. Lema was sitting at his desk correcting papers. When I entered he looked up at me and smiled. I felt better. I walked up to him and asked if he could help me with the new words. "Gladly," he said.

    The rest of the month I spent my lunch hours working on English with Mr. Lema, my best friend at school. (9.29-30)

    It's been tough for Francisco to learn English, mainly because no teacher has taken the time to help our main man. But when Mr. Lema comes around, that changes. He spends oodles of hours with Francisco, and helps him with every little bit of learning a new language.

    I was behind in English, Miss Martin's favorite subject. Every day she would write a different English word on the blackboard and ask the class to look it up in our dictionaries as fast as we could. […] So I got the idea of writing the words down in my note pad, long with their definitions, and memorizing them. I did this for the rest of the year. And after I left Miss Martin's class, I continued adding new words and their definitions to my note pad. I also wrote other things I needed to learn for school and things I wanted to know by heart, like spelling words, and math and grammar rules. I carried the note pad in my shirt pocket and, while I worked in the fields, memorized the information I had written in it. I took my librito with me wherever I went. (11.35)

    Miss Martin has found a cool way for Francisco to learn English, and we're seriously impressed with how hard he's working to memorize new words and grammar rules. Having help at school makes learning English a lot more feasible for Francisco, and pretty rewarding too. We'd call that a win-win.

    I glanced at Papá and Mamá. They were beaming. "You got a job!" I cried out.

    "Yes. Mr. Sims offered me the janitorial job at Main Street School," he answered, grinning from ear to ear. (12.74-75)

    Sometimes you don't even need words to say how you're feeling. When Francisco comes home to see his parents grinning ear to ear, he just knows that his big bro got the job. Did you notice how Francisco doesn't even have to ask what's happened? And no one needs to tell him before he figures it all out. This little detective sees all the smiles and knows what's up.

    By Friday, I had memorized the introductory lines to the Declaration of Independence and could recite them with relative ease. Only the word inalienable caused me problems. I had trouble saying it, so I broke it into syllables and repeated each sound slowly, followed by the whole word. On my way to school on the bus, I took out the black note pad from my shirt pocket, closed my eyes, and practiced saying "in-a-li-en-a-ble" silently to myself. (12.81)

    Francisco is getting quite good at learning his own strategies to communicate and master the English language. It might have all started with some good teachers who actually took the time to help our main man out, but now he's doing it on his own too.

  • Visions of California

    "La frontera" is a word I often heard when I was a child living in El Rancho Blanco, a small village nestled on barren, dry hills several miles north of Guadalajara, Mexico. I heard it for the first time back in the late 1940s when Papá and Mamá told me and Roberto, my older brother, that someday we would take a long trip north, cross la frontera, enter California, and leave our poverty behind.

    I did not know exactly what California was either, but Papá's eyes sparkled whenever he talked about it with Mamá and his friends. "Once we cross la frontera, we'll make a good living in California," he would say, standing up straight and sticking out his chest. (1.1-2)

    California is a big unknown for Francisco and his family, but right from the start, we know they've got big dreams for this magical place. Did you notice how psyched Papá gets when talking about Cali? He's showing it in the stories he tells, and with his body language too.

    Noting that Papá had closed his eyes, I turned to Roberto and asked, "What's California like?"

    "I don't know," he answered, "but Fito told me that people there sweep money off the streets."

    "Where did Fito get that idea?" Papá said, opening his eyes and laughing.

    "From Cantinflas," Roberto said assuredly. "He said Cantinflas said it in a movie."

    "Cantinflas was joking," Papá responded, chuckling. "But it's true that life is better there." (1.10-14)

    Francisco and his family have high hopes for California, and while the idea that people "sweep money off the streets" is hyperbolic, it lets us know just how great they expect California to be. Keep an eye out for whether California ends up being all that the characters want it to be.

    We followed behind him until we reached a barbed wire fence. According to Papá, this was la frontera. He pointed out that across the gray wire barricade was California, that famous place I had heard so much about. On both sides of the fence were armed guards dressed in green uniforms. Papá called them la migra, and explained that we had to cross the fence to the other side without being seen by them. (1.19)

    It looks like we've found one of the downsides to California: those dudes with guns. In order to make it into California, Francisco and his family need to hide from armed guards and find a way to climb under a barbed wire fence. But Francisco doesn't seem too scared or sad about the whole thing. What do you think Francisco's tone sounds like here?

    The familiar Noon Train whistle interrupted him. We stepped off the rail and moved a few feet away from the tracks. The conductor slowed the train to a crawl, waved, and gently dropped a large brown bag in front of us as he went by. We picked it up and looked inside. It was full of oranges, apples, and candy.

    "See, it does come from California!" Roberto exclaimed. (1.39-40)

    Now California is a land where bags of candy and fruit come flying off trains—so though they've had to battle some barbed wire fences and avoid guys with guns, California is looking pretty stinking amazing to Francisco and Roberto right here.

    That cold, early morning, Papá parked the Carcachita, our old jalopy, at one end of the cotton field. He, Mamá, and Roberto, my older brother, climbed out and headed toward the other end, where the picking started. As usual, they left me alone in the car to take care of Trampita, my little brother, who was six months old. I hated being left by myself with him while they went off to pick cotton. (2.1)

    This is a big change from all that money-sweeping and celebrity-spotting Francisco might've been expecting based on Fito's stories. Instead he's stuck in a car babysitting while his mom, dad, and big bro are off to pick cotton. We're getting the feeling that California is now associated with hard work and loneliness. And that's a big bummer.

    We called it Tent City. Everybody called it Tent City, although it was neither a city nor a town. It was a farm worker labor camp owned by Sheehey Strawberry Farms.

    Tent City had no address; it was simply known as rural Santa Maria. It was on Main Street, about ten miles east of the center of town. Half a mile east of it were hundreds of acres of strawberries cultivated by Japanese sharecroppers and harvested by people from the camp. Behind Tent City was dry wilderness, and a mile north of it was the city dump. Many of the residents in the camp were single men, most of whom, like us, had crossed the border illegally. There were a few single women and a few families, all Mexican. (4.1-2)

    This version of Cali is looking a lot different from those candy-delivering trains earlier. Did you notice how the camp where Francisco and his family live doesn't have an official name? Or an address? This makes Tent City feel a little lost.

    In the latter part of October, after the grape season was over, we left Mr. Jacobson's vineyards in Fresno and headed for Corcoran to pick cotton. As we drove down the narrow, two-lane road, we passed vineyard after vineyard. Stripped of their grapes, the vines were now draped in yellow, orange, and brown leaves. Within a couple of hours, the vineyards gave way to cotton fields. On both sides of the road we were surrounded by miles and miles of cotton plants. I knew that we were approaching Corcoran. (8.1)

    Sometimes the California landscape sounds seriously nice—the way Francisco describes it, the area even sounds pretty beautiful. When he talks about the plants being "draped" in colors, we get an awesome picture in our heads. But at the same time, all these fields mean super hard work for Francisco and his family, so that makes this setting a good deal less gorgeous.

    The contratista tied one end of a thick rope to it and, handing the other end to Gabriel, said, "Here, tie this around your waist. I want you to till the furrows."

    "I can't do that," Gabriel said with a painful look in his face.

    "What do you mean you can't?" responded the contratista, placing his hands on his hips.

    "In my country, oxen pull plows, not men," Gabriel replied, tilting his hat back. "I am not an animal."

    The contratista walked up to Gabriel and yelled in his face, "Well this isn't your country, idiot! You either do what I say or I'll have you fired!" (10.36-40)

    When Gabriel stands up to the contratista, things get heated. The contratista isn't a very nice guy, and he wants Gabriel to know who's boss, but Gabriel isn't willing to pretend that he's an animal. Remember how pretty all the fields can look to Francisco when he's driving through them? Well the contratista is making those fields look a whole lot different. Instead of being a beautiful place, now they sound like a way to make the workers feel less than human, and that's seriously uncool.

    I was so excited about going back to Bonetti Ranch that I was the first one up the following morning. […] The trip took about five hours, but it seemed like five days to me. Sitting in the back seat, I opened the window and stuck my head out, looking for road signs saying SANTA MARIA. "Can't you go faster?" I asked impatiently, poking Roberto in the back. […]

    The closer we got to Santa Maria, the more excited I became because I knew where we were going to live for the next several months. I especially looked forward to seeing some of my classmates in the eighth grade at El Camino Junior High. I had not seen them since last June when school ended. I wonder if they'll remember me? I thought to myself. (12.22, 29)

    California might not always be a happy place for Francisco's family, but when it comes to moving back to Santa Maria, Francisco is spouting off some serious joy. Getting to stay in his old home and go to his old school have something to do with it, we think, and since California is where Francisco finds these simple pleasures, maybe the state isn't totally bad after all.

    Once we crossed the cement bridge, which went over a dry riverbed for a quarter of a mile, I stretched my neck and tried to pinpoint the location of Bonetti Ranch. I knew it was near where Tent City used to be, about a mile south of the city dump.

    The highway became Broadway and went right through the center of the town. When we got to Main Street, Roberto turned left and drove east for about ten miles. Along the way, I kept pointing out places I recognized: Main Street School; Kress, the five-and-dime store; the Texaco gas station where we got our drinking water; and the hospital where Torito stayed when he got sick. We then crossed Suey Road, which marked the end of the city limits and the beginning of hundreds of acres of recently planted lettuce and carrots. (12.32-33)

    This image of California might not include sweeping money off the streets like Francisco thought at the start of the book, but it's an image that's pretty comforting to our narrator. He's stoked to be in a place that feels like home. To Francisco, California isn't about movie stars or money anymore—now it's all about the small towns he's lived in, and lots of crops growing far as the eye can see. Yep, it's definitely a more realistic picture of Cali by the end of this book.

  • Perseverance

    "When can we start work?" Papá asked, rubbing his hands.

    "In two weeks," the foreman answered.

    "That can't be!" Papá exclaimed, shaking his head. "We were told we'd find work right away."

    "I am sorry, the strawberries won't be ready to pick until then," the foreman responded, shrugging his shoulders and walking away. (1.26-29)

    Papá and his family have barely arrived in Cali and they're already geared up to work hard. Can you tell how excited they are about getting jobs? Just take a look at Papá's mannerisms and tone—with all that hand-rubbing, he seems pretty eager to get straight to work. But at this very first job opportunity, Papá learns a hard lesson: he's going to have to be super patient and persistent just to be able to work in this new California life. Now that sounds like a lot of perseverance to us.

    To make ends meet, Mamá cooked for twenty farm workers who lived in Tent City. She made their lunches and had supper ready for them when they returned from picking strawberries at the end of the day. She would get up at four o'clock every morning, seven days a week, to make the tortillas for both meals. On weekends and all during the summer, Roberto and I helped her. Once Papá left for work, Roberto rolled the tacos while I wrapped them in wax paper and put them in lunch bags. At eleven-thirty, Roberto carried the twenty lunches in a box and delivered them, on foot, to the workers, who were given half an hour for lunch. When he returned, he and I washed dishes in a large aluminum tub. We then took care of our younger brother, Trampita, while Mamá took a nap. Around three o'clock she would start cooking dinner, which was served from six to seven. After supper, Roberto and I again cleaned the pots and washed dishes while Mamá fed Trampita. On Saturdays, she did all of the grocery shopping for the week. Because we did not have an icebox, Papá made one. Every three days, he went into town to buy a large block of ice, which he wrapped in burlap and placed inside a hole he dug in the ground by the entrance to our tent. The hole was twice as large as the block of ice, leaving room on all four sides and on top for things to be kept cold. (4.4)

    Sheesh, we're tuckered out just reading about all this hard work. Did you notice how every member of the family has a bunch of tough jobs to do? And they're not taking any time off either—the list of jobs just goes on and on. Such a long list makes us realize just how much work this family does every single day.

    After a long moment of silence, he said, "Remember, we have to keep our promise and pray to el Santo Niño every day, for a whole year."

    That night, and every night for an entire year, we all prayed to el Santo Niño de Atocha as we followed the crops from place to place. (4.63-64)

    One super important element of perseverance is sticking with your plans. And Francisco's family does just that—so when they make a promise to pray every day to el Santo Niño, you can bet they keep at it until that whole year is up. What do you think motivates Francisco's family to keep this level of commitment for so long?

    As I gazed at the dead fish, the image of the goldfish flashed in my mind. I quickly ran to our cabin and got the empty Hills Brothers coffee can. I filled it with water and began picking up the dying fish from the mud puddles, putting them in the can, and dumping them in the creek. After a couple of hours, I was exhausted there were too many and I could not work fast enough to save them all. (5.19)

    Francisco isn't about to take no for an answer, and when he sees those fish dying, he works as fast as he possibly can. Did you notice all the steps he took to help save the fish? He is one dedicated dude. But even with all that hard work, lots of the fish can't be saved—in this case, hard work just isn't enough.

    They each took a row. I went ahead about a quarter of the way into Papá's row. I took my hands out of my pockets and started picking and piling the cotton in the furrow. Within seconds my toes were numb and I could hardly move my fingers. My hands were turning red and purple. I kept blowing on them, trying to keep warm. […] I could not go on. Frustrated and disappointed, I walked over to Papá. He straightened up and looked down at me. His eyes were red and watery from the cold. Before I said anything, he looked at Roberto, who bravely kept on picking, and told me to go over to the fire. I knew then I had not yet earned my own cotton sack. (8.33)

    There's one thing Francisco wants more than anything: his own cotton sack. His dad says he's too young though, so he has to settle for putting his cotton into his family member's bags. When it's freezing cold outside and Francisco decides to pick cotton anyway though, you can bet he's trying to prove a point. Why do you think Francisco is so driven to get his own cotton sack? What does this tell us about his character?

    That evening, and for several days after, I was too tired to play outside when we got home from work. I went straight to bed after supper. But as I got more and more used to picking strawberries, I began to play kick-the-can again. The game was always the same. […]

    Work was always the same, too. We picked rom six o'clock in the morning until six in the afternoon. Even though the days were long, I looked forward to seeing Gabriel and having lunch with him every day. I enjoyed listening to him tell stories and talk about Mexico. (10.34-35)

    When Francisco gets back to work after being at school for months, his body isn't used to all the fruit picking, so he's as sore as can be. Over time, though, he gets used to all the work, even if it sounds pretty monotonous.

    So I got the idea of writing the words down in my note pad, long with their definitions, and memorizing them. I did this for the rest of the year. And after I left Miss Martin's class, I continued adding new words and their definitions to my note pad. I also wrote other things I needed to learn for school and things I wanted to know by heart, like spelling words, and math and grammar rules. I carried the note pad in my shirt pocket and, while I worked in the fields, memorized the information I had written in it. I took my librito with me wherever I went. (11.35)

    Francisco is working hard in every single aspect of his life. Need him to work up a storm in the field? He's on it. Want him to persevere through schoolwork, too? No problem. In fact, it sounds like he's working hard on his school stuff all the time, since he says he's got his notepad with him "wherever I went." This kid takes perseverance to a whole new level.

    The following morning, before going to work, Mamá and I covered my note pad with waxed paper to keep it clean. I then marked the spelling rules I wanted to memorize that day. As I picked grapes, I went over them in my mind, looking at my notes only when I had to. This made the time go by faster. (11.58)

    These days, Francisco is unstoppable. He's persevering through schoolwork while working hard in the field, which is pretty impressive. What do you think about this simultaneous work? Does it sound like doing two things at once makes him more efficient or less? How so?

    As days went by, Papá's back did not get better, and neither did his mood. Mamá, Roberto, and I took turns massaging him with Vicks VapoRub. When he was not complaining about not being able to work, he lay in bed, motionless, with an empty look in his eyes. He took a lot of aspirins, ate very little, and hardly slept during the night. During the day, when he was exhausted, he took short naps.

    Early one evening, when Papá had dozed off, Mamá took Roberto and me aside. "I don't think your Papá can work in the fields anymore," she said, rubbing her hands on her apron, "What are we going to do?" (12.41-42)

    We've seen our characters push through some ridiculously backbreaking work in this book, and now all that labor has caught up with Papá—he's injured and it sounds painful. So now the family needs to come together to figure out how they can get through this new struggle. We're thinking that this major injury is a reminder that too much perseverance isn't always a good thing. Do you see any positives to this injury?

    After supper, I sat at the table to do my homework. I was so excited about Roberto's new job that it was difficult to focus. But I was determined to memorize the lines from the Declaration of Independence and recite them perfectly, without forgetting a single word. I took the text and broke it down, line by line. I looked up in the dictionary the words I did not know: self-evident, endowed, inalienable, and pursuit. I added them to the list of English words I kept in my new, black pocket not pad. I had gotten in the habit of writing down a different English word and its definition every day and memorizing it. After I looked up the meaning of the words, I wrote the entire text in my note pad in tiny letters: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I went over the first line many times until I memorized it. My plan was to memorize at least one line a day so that I could recite it on Friday of the following week. (12.79)

    Francisco is seriously the hardest worker. Like, ever. Just take a look at his step-by-step plan—he's got every little bit worked out, from breaking down the lines to looking up the words to memorizing the passage from the Declaration of Independence. And since he goes through each step in detail, he lets us in on his secrets for how he gets all his work done. Plus, he's got a pretty confident tone here, like he knows what to do without questioning himself.

  • Time

    "When can we start work?" Papá asked, rubbing his hands.

    "In two weeks," the foreman answered.

    "That can't be!" Papá exclaimed, shaking his head. "We were told we'd find work right away."

    "I am sorry, the strawberries won't be ready to pick until then," the foreman responded, shrugging his shoulders and walking away. (1.26-29)

    Right off the bat, we learn that time is going to be super important in this book. Because Francisco's family works in fields picking strawberries, grapes, and cotton, their work schedule is governed by the seasons—and that means that the time of year makes a huge difference for what kind of work they can do. Or whether they can find work at all. So when they first arrive in California and the strawberries aren't ready to be harvested, they have to wait to start their new jobs. Keep an eye out for other moments where the seasons dictate their work schedules.

    It was late January and we had just returned a week before, from Corcoran, where my family picked cotton. We settled in Tent City, a labor camp owned by Sheehey Strawberry Farms located about ten miles east of Santa Maria. (3.4)

    Even just a couple chapters into this book, we can already tell that Francisco and his family are going to move around a lot. Scratch that: sometimes it feels like they're moving all the time. And since they're traveling to places depending on the crops that are grown, they don't always have a choice about where to go. So when it's time for cotton, his family heads to Corcoran, and when it's strawberry season in Santa Maria, that's where Francisco's family goes.

    To make ends meet, Mamá cooked for twenty farm workers who lived in Tent City. She made their lunches and had supper ready for them when they returned from picking strawberries at the end of the day. She would get up at four o'clock every morning, seven days a week, to make the tortillas for both meals. On weekends and all during the summer, Roberto and I helped her. Once Papá left for work, Roberto rolled the tacos while I wrapped them in wax paper and put them in lunch bags. At eleven-thirty, Roberto carried the twenty lunches in a box and delivered them, on foot, to the workers, who were given half an hour for lunch. When he returned, he and I washed dishes in a large aluminum tub. We then took care of our younger brother, Trampita, while Mamá took a nap. Around three o'clock she would start cooking dinner, which was served from six to seven. After supper, Roberto and I again cleaned the pots and washed dishes while Mamá fed Trampita. On Saturdays, she did all of the grocery shopping for the week. Because we did not have an icebox, Papá made one. Every three days, he went into town to buy a large block of ice, which he wrapped in burlap and placed inside a hole he dug in the ground by the entrance to our tent. The hole was twice as large as the block of ice, leaving room on all four sides and on top for things to be kept cold. (4.4)

    It's not just the time of year that's important for Francisco's family, it's the time of day, too. When Francisco and Roberto aren't in school, they've got a seriously packed schedule, just like their parents. Check out how each family member uses every minute in every day. There's no wasting time around here.

    It always rained a lot in Corcoran during the cotton season, but that year it rained more than usual. No sooner had we arrived from Fowler, where we had picked grapes, than it started to pour. […]

    There was not a lot to do when it rained. (5.1-2)

    Since the time of year impacts when plants are ready to be harvested, it also impacts whether Francisco's family can work at all. And when it's raining they get a free pass from work. This might sound pretty cool at first, but it also means they don't get paid, which is kind of scary. Francisco and his family have to find a way to stay busy when it's pouring cats and dogs outside, and cross their fingers that they can work again soon.

    When I heard Papá say "we're broke too," I panicked. My hope for getting a ball of my own that Christmas faded—but only for a second. "It can't be like last year," I told myself. (6.5)

    Francisco is a seriously hopeful kid. He has faith things will change from one year to the next, which is pretty cool—and since he figures that life will only get better over time, he has high hopes that this Christmas he'll get a cooler gift than last year. Even though Francisco ends up being disappointed (bye-bye ball, hello bag of candy), we've got to give him props for hoping that time can change all things for the better.

    He had been in a terrible mood the last few days because he was not sure where we would work, now that the grape season was almost over. (7.5)

    For Papá, the changing seasons can be seriously stressful. It his job to find the family new places to work, so when work is scarce and it's time to make a change, he's in a rough spot. Do you think Francisco's tone shows empathy for his pops? Or does Francisco not get how big of a deal the end of the grape season is?

    In the latter part of October, after the grape season was over, we left Mr. Jacobson's vineyards in Fresno and headed for Corcoran to pick cotton. As we drove down the narrow, two-lane road, we passed vineyard after vineyard. Stripped of their grapes, the vines were now draped in yellow, orange, and brown leaves. Within a couple of hours, the vineyards gave way to cotton fields. On both sides of the road we were surrounded by miles and miles of cotton plants. I knew that we were approaching Corcoran. (8.1)

    Okay, we know the seasons can be scary and all that, but here the changing seasons also sound kind of pretty. This setting tells us a lot about how one season ends and another begins. Right after Francisco and his family pass all the empty grape vines, they spot cotton plants ready to be harvested—and that means lots of work. Do you think the impending hard work makes the changing seasons less pretty, or is it a good thing because his family will have work? Can the seasons be both scary and appealing?

    On both sides of the road we passed endless fields of harvested cotton plants. From their dry branches dangled cotton fibers left during the first picking. They were frozen from the cold. In the distance ahead of us, Papá spotted a white speck and a cloud of thick black some. […]

    I took my hands out of my pockets and started picking and piling the cotton in the furrow. Within seconds my toes were numb and I could hardly move my fingers. My hands were turning red and purple. (8.31, 33)

    Just in case we needed a reminder of why time matters in farming, here it is: once it's too cold, not only are the plants frozen, but the workers are too. Here it's so cold that Francisco can't even get the job done, even though he tries really hard.

    It was that time of year again. Ito, the strawberry sharecropper, did not smile. It was natural. The peak of the strawberry season was over, and in the last few days the workers, most of them, braceros, were not picking as many boxes as they had during June and July. […]

    When the sun had tired and sunk behind the mountains, Ito signaled us that it was time to go home. "Ya esora," he yelled in his broken Spanish. Those were the words I waited for twelve hours a day, every day, seven days a week, week after week. And the thought of not hearing them again saddened me. […]

    Yes, it was that time of year. When I opened the front door to the shack, I stopped. Everything we owned was neatly packed in cardboard boxes. Suddenly I felt even more the weight of hours, days, weeks, and months of work. I sat down on a box. The thought of having to move to Fresno and knowing what was in store for me there brought tears to my eyes. (9.1, 3, 5)

    Wow—the changes here seem pretty inevitable. It's almost like Francisco has gotten really used to this way of moving through time and he's not even going to try to escape it. And since he says he want to cry, we're getting the impression that he's not too thrilled about how the seasons keep changing up his life. Is there anything to look forward to in these changes, or are the changing seasons bad news all around?

    The following morning, before going to work, Mamá and I covered my note pad with waxed paper to keep it clean. I then marked the spelling rules I wanted to memorize that day. As I picked grapes, I went over them in my mind, looking at my notes only when I had to. This made the time go by faster. (11.58)

    Sometimes Francisco wants time to move slow as can be, like when he's enjoying school or spending time with his friends. But other times he wants time to speed up. When it comes to working in the fields, he finds one way to make time fly by: work on school at the same time.

  • Education

    "I remember being hit on the wrists with a twelve-inch ruler because I did not follow directions in class," Roberto answered in a mildly angry tone when I asked him about his first year of school. "But how could I?" he continued. "The teacher gave them in English." […]

    I wish I had not asked him, but he was the only one in the family, including Papá and Mamá, who had attended school. I walked away. I did not speak or understand English either, and I already felt anxious. (3.1, 4)

    Our first glimpse of school in this book sure doesn't paint a pretty picture—for Roberto, school is no fun at all. Let's hope things get better from here on out for him and Francisco.

    Mr. Sims walked me to my classroom. I liked it as soon as I saw it because, unlike our tent, it had wooden floors, electric lights, and heat. It felt cozy. He introduced me to my teacher, Miss Scalapino, who smiled, repeating my name, "Francisco." […]

    I sat at my desk and ran my hand over its wooden top. (3.9-10)

    School actually seems cool here. The principal and teacher are both super nice, plus check out that swanky desk. We're thinking Francisco's tone definitely sounds pretty happy, and almost like he's mesmerized by all the new cool stuff. With Francisco seeming so pleased with this new school gig, maybe things are looking up after all.

    My favorite time in school was when we did art, which was every afternoon, after the teacher had read to us. Since I did not understand Miss Scalapino when she explained the art lessons, she let me do whatever I wanted. I drew all kinds of animals but mostly birds and butterflies. I sketched them in pencil and then colored them using every color in my crayon box. Miss Scalapino even tacked one of my drawings up on the board for everyone to see. (3.20)

    School has some rough patches, but at least art looks like a fun time—plus, Francisco is also so talented that his teacher honors one of his drawings. While it's cool that he gets to enjoy drawing though, it would also be cool for Miss S to bother teaching him—instead of just letting him be—too.

    We were leaving only three weeks after I have enrolled in the fourth grade for the first time that year. As we drove by the school, I saw some kids I knew on the playground. I imagined myself playing with them with the ball I would get for Christmas. I waved to them but they did not see me. (6.11)

    Because Francisco's family moves a lot, he doesn't get to spend much time in any one school—and when they leave Corcoran, he's only been in fourth grade for three weeks. Goodbye school, and goodbye school friends. Bummer all around.

    Suddenly I noticed Papá's face turn pale as he looked down the road. "Here comes the school bus," he whispered loudly in alarm. Instinctively, Roberto and I ran and hid in the vineyards. We did not want to get in trouble for not going to school. (9.20)

    During grape season, Roberto and Francisco ditch school to help their parents pick grapes—their family needs all the helping hands they can get. This lets us know that while school is important, when it comes to a work versus school standoff, sometimes work takes the cake.

    After taking roll, Mr. Lema gave the class the assignment for the first hour. "The first thing we have to do this morning is finish reading the story we began yesterday," he said enthusiastically. He walked up to me, handed me an English book, and asked me to read. "We are on page 125," he said politely. When I heard this, I felt my blood rush to my head; I felt dizzy. "Would you like to read?" he asked hesitantly. I opened the book to page 125. My mouth was dry. My eyes began to water. I could not begin. "You can read later," Mr. Lema said understandingly. (9.28)

    So this Mr. Lema sounds like one awesome dude. When Francisco feels embarrassed on his first day back at school, Mr. L gets him out of a pickle. In the past, Francisco's teachers have only been so-so, but Mr. L is way more understanding. Hopefully he can have a good influence on our main man, and make school a fun place to be.

    Mr. Lema was sitting at his desk correcting papers. When I entered he looked up at me and smiled. I felt better. I walked up to him and asked if he could help me with the new words. "Gladly," he said.

    The rest of the month I spent my lunch hours working on English with Mr. Lema, my best friend at school. (9.29-30)

    Remember all those times Francisco didn't know English so the teachers just ignored him? Well not Mr. Lema. He's ready to sit down with Francisco and hash out this whole learning English thing. How do you think Mr. L's cool attitude impacts Francisco's feelings about school? It sounds to us like Francisco really wants to be there now. Good one, Mr. L.

    I was in a bad mood. It was the last day of seventh grade before summer vacation. I had known the day was coming, but I had tried not to think about it because it made me sad. […]

    In the school bus on the way home, I took out my note pad and pencil from my shirt pocket and began figuring out how much time there was before I would start school again—from the middle of June until the first week of November, about four and a half months. Ten weeks picking strawberries in Santa Maria and another eight weeks harvesting grapes and cotton in Fresno. (10.1-2)

    School has become something Francisco really likes, which is a big change. But the work versus school conflict is still there. When school ends and it's time for summer work, and Francisco knows he's got a long wait ahead until he can get back in the classroom. What do you think has changed for Francisco? How is his attitude toward learning different now versus earlier in the book?

    The closer we got to Santa Maria, the more excited I became because I knew where we were going to live for the next several months. I especially looked forward to seeing some of my classmates in the eighth grade at El Camino Junior High. I had not seen them since last June when school ended. I wonder if they'll remember me? I thought to myself. (12.29)

    Francisco is going to be starting eighth grade in his old school in Santa Maria and he is as stoked as can be. He's looking forward to seeing his old pals again, though he also sounds a little nervous too. Will they remember him? It's hard always being the new kid.

    At one o'clock, right after lunch, I was the first one in Miss Ehlis's classroom. I sat at my desk and went over the recitation in my mind one last time: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." I checked the text in my note pad to make sure I had not forgotten anything. It was perfect. Feeling confident, I placed the note pad inside the desk and waited for the class to start. (12.86)

    Francisco has been working really hard memorizing this part of the Declaration of Independence. Back in the beginning of the book he was super nervous and quiet all the time when it came to school, but now he's seriously brave and ready to go—he even says he's "confident" while he's waiting for class. Sounds to us like school has had a pretty great influence on our main man.

  • Poverty

    "La frontera" is a word I often heard when I was a child living in El Rancho Blanco, a small village nestled on barren, dry hills several miles north of Guadalajara, Mexico. I heard it for the first time back in the late 1940s when Papá and Mamá told me and Roberto, my older brother, that someday we would take a long trip north, cross la frontera, enter California, and leave our poverty behind.

    I did not know exactly what California was either, but Papá's eyes sparkled whenever he talked about it with Mamá and his friends. "Once we cross la frontera, we'll make a good living in California," he would say, standing up straight and sticking out his chest. (1.1-2)

    Right from the start, we know that Francisco's family wants a different life when they get to California. And the big change they're looking for is to get out of poverty. How do you think Francisco and his family are defining poverty here? It certainly seems to be about having enough money to live, since Papá mentions wanting to "make a good living in California." How else do they define poverty?

    Noting that Papá had closed his eyes, I turned to Roberto and asked, "What's California like?"

    "I don't know," he answered, "but Fito told me that people there sweep money off the streets."

    "Where did Fito get that idea?" Papá said, opening his eyes and laughing.

    "From Cantinflas," Roberto said assuredly. "He said Cantinflas said it in a movie."

    "Cantinflas was joking," Papá responded, chuckling. "But it's true that life is better there." (1.10-14)

    When it comes to California, Francisco and his family have big dreams. Sure some of these dreams come from Cantinflas (a famous Mexican movie star) so they're on the exaggerated side—but the idea that they might sweep money off the street gives us a clue about one of the hopes they have for their new life. Francisco and his fam might not expect to get rich, but it definitely sounds like they want a life that isn't defined by poverty. Keep an eye out for ways they reach this dream… and ways they don't.

    "He still has a fever," Papá said pensively. "His stomach feels hard. Maybe it's something he ate. If he doesn't get better soon, we'll have to take him to the hospital."

    "But we don't have any money," Mamá responded, sobbing and looking sadly at Torito.

    "We'll borrow, or… something," Papá said, putting his right arm around Mamá's shoulder. (4.21-23)

    Poverty comes in all different shapes and sizes, but this time it means not having enough money to cover health expenses. And that's bad news for Torito. Can you tell just how worried Mamá and Papá are about going to the hospital? Without enough money to pay for treatment, Torito won't make it, but they can't just sweep money off the street either. The family is in a terrible pickle.

    "Perhaps you could give us fifty cents for this? Look, it's pure leather; almost brand new," he said, handing it to Papá.

    Shaking his head, Papá replied sympathetically, "I am sorry. I wish I could, but we're broke too."

    When I heard Papá say "we're broke too," I panicked. My hope for getting a ball of my own that Christmas faded—but only for a second. "It can't be like last year," I told myself.

    My thoughts were interrupted by the man's desperate insistence. "Please, how about twenty-five cents?" (6.3-6)

    A young couple shows up at Francisco's cabin in need of some help. They don't have any money and the lady is pregnant, so they're hoping to sell some of their only possessions. They're seriously desperate—an all the talk about being "broke" makes Francisco feel super desperate too.

    We unloaded the Carcachita, placed some cardboard on the dirt floor, and laid our wide mattress on it. All of us—Papá, Mamá, Roberto, Trampita, Torito, and Rubén, my baby brother—slept on the mattress to keep warm, especially during chilly nights when the freezing wind pierced the canvas walls of our new home.

    As Christmas drew closer, the more anxious and excited I became. When December 24 finally arrived, time seemed to stand still. One more day to wait, I thought.   

    […] We huddled together and covered ourselves with army blankets we had bought at a secondhand store. I could not sleep thinking about Christmas. Once in a while, Papá's words "but we are broke too" entered my mind, but I pushed them out with fantasies of playing with my very own ball. (6.13-15)

    When Francisco and his family set up their new temporary home in a tent just before Christmas, we can tell that money is tight—but Francisco remains optimistic about Christmas gifts anyway. Do you think he's in denial of his family's poverty? Or do you think his optimism works as a pretty cool sign of hope? How else might Francisco's optimism function here?

    The shadows cast by the dim light made the circles under her eyes look even darker. As she began to wrap the gifts, silent tears ran down her cheeks. I did not know why.

    At dawn, my brothers and I scrambled to get the presents that had been placed next to our shoes. I picked mine up and nervously tore at the butcher-paper wrapping: a bag of candy. Roberto, Trampita, and Torito looked sadly at me and at each other. They, too, had received a bag of candy. Searching for words to tell Mamá how I felt, I looked up at her. Her eyes were full of tears. (6.17-18)

    When there's not much money to go around, a holiday like Christmas can be super tough. Remember how excited Francisco was about getting a new ball? That hope deflates pretty quickly when he opens his bag of candy. And he's not the only one who's sad—just take a look at how Robert, Trampita, Torito, and Mamá feel about the whole hullabaloo. We're thinking that this holiday might not be the best one yet.

    The contratista tied one end of a thick rope to it and, handing the other end to Gabriel, said, "Here, tie this around your waist. I want you to till the furrows."

    "I can't do that," Gabriel said with a painful look in his face.

    "What do you mean you can't?" responded the contratista, placing his hands on his hips.

    "In my country, oxen pull plows, not men," Gabriel replied, tilting his hat back. "I am not an animal."

    The contratista walked up to Gabriel and yelled in his face, "Well this isn't your country, idiot! You either do what I say or I'll have you fired!" (10.36-40)

    It's a sad truth, but in this book, poverty can be a pretty demeaning state. So when the contratista orders Gabriel to pull the plow, Gabriel realizes he's being treated poorly—in fact, he feels like the contratista is treating him like an "animal" and that's super insulting. How else do you think the contratista demeans Gabriel in this scene?

    "The revolution started that same year."

    "What revolution?" I asked.

    "The Mexican Revolution," he responded. "I don't know the whole story," he said apologetically. "I didn't go to school, but what I do know I learned from listening to corridos and to your abuelita Estefanía. She told me that during that time, many of the rich hacendados treated the campesinos like slaves."

    "Did abuelito Hilario fight in the Revolution?" I asked.

    "No, mi'jo. My father died six months after I was born. But your abuelita favored the Revolution, just like all poor people did." (11.9-13)

    When Papá tells Francisco about the Mexican Revolution, we learn that poverty isn't just an issue for Francisco's generation—it has had a huge impact on the history of Francisco's family and his home country. Papá learned about the Mexican Revolution through corridos (songs that tell stories from the past) and from his abuelita (grandma)—and part of the history he learns is that poor folks fought to gain more freedom.

    When I walked in, I was amazed. I had never been inside a house before. The rug under my feet felt like a sack full of cotton. The living room was warm and as big as the one-room cabin we lived in. The light was soft and soothing. Carl then showed me his room. He had his own bed and his own desk. From the closet, which was half full of clothes, he pulled out a cigar box and several dark blue folders. […]

    On the way back to school to catch my bus, Carl said, "When can I come to your house and see your collection?" His question took me by surprise. I never thought he would want to visit me at our home. And after seeing his house, I was not sure I wanted him to see where I lived. (11.19, 26)

    Francisco is in quite a pickle. Now that he's seen Carl's swanky pad, he's a wee bit nervous to invite his new pal over to his house because he's worried about how different their two homes are. Even though his family works incredibly hard for what they have, Francisco is worried about the opinion his friend will form if he sees where they live.

    After traveling for about five hours, we arrived at our new home in Orosi. It was an old, two-story, yellow wooden house. It was located about fifteen miles outside the city limits. Mr. Patrini, the owner, told us that the house was seventy years old. We could not use the second level because the floors were unstable. The first floor had two rooms and a kitchen. Behind the house was a large barn and hundreds of vineyards. […]

    After our prayers, we slipped into bed. I had trouble falling asleep. I can't believe we are living in a house, I thought to myself. (11.36, 42)

    For Francisco's family, poverty doesn't mean being without shelter—throughout the book they find shelter one way or another. Sometimes it's a tent and sometimes it's a leaky shack, but most of the time they find some sort of roof over their heads. This is the first house they get to live in though, which makes this place extra special.