Harvesting Hope:
the Story of Cesar Chavez
written by Kathleen Krull
illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Kathleen Krull's Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
Illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Book review by Anita Lock

Ages 8-11

A Hero for the Helpless

There is no better explanation to offer a child inquiring about who picked the produce found in a grocery store than to talk about migrant workers; and there is no better way to talk about migrant workers than to explain why Cesar Chavez should be included in the answer.

Review - Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

This story can be easily divided into three parts: Cesar Chavez’ youth, his trials and tribulations, and his achievements. In the first part, Krull’s straightforward text, coupled with Morales’ acrylic earthen-tone illustrations and childlike characters, describe the lighthearted first ten years of his life on his parents’ 80-acre Arizona ranch.

Swimming hole at the Chavez ranch, from Harvesting Hope: the Story of Cesar Chavez, Yuyi Morales illustrator

So happy was his time spent with family and relatives that he grew apprehensive when it came time to start school. A problem with his teacher only made matters worse. Fortunately, it crystallized his mother’s words of wisdom not to use violence, but to always use his mind and mouth to work out conflicts.

The scene changes over the next several pages, which bring us to the second part of the story.

We learn of a severe drought that had choked the life from the Arizonan soil back in 1937, forcing Cesar’s parents and relatives to abandon their farms.

Readers will be drawn into Morales' depiction of the immense sadness captured in the eyes of Cesar and his family as they say goodbye to their old lives and head for the fertile, green valleys of California in hopes of rebuilding their lives.

The ranch dries up, from Harvesting Hope: the Story of Cesar Chavez, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

We can only imagine the mixed emotions Cesar and his family experienced when their only option was to become migrant workers. Traveling from farm to farm for the Delano Growers, only to pick chemically laden grapes for meager wages, must have been extremely daunting, not to mention living in overcrowded and filthy conditions in shanties on farm owner’s land.

Review - Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

Years passed with no hope of change. Cesar observed that the migrant worker’s life looked more like slavery than a productive job; and it is at this juncture that we begin to experience a ray of hope - the third part of the story - when he made the decision to fight for better working and living conditions for migrant workers.

Picking corn as a child, from Harvesting Hope: the Story of Cesar Chavez, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Through daily conversations with other migrant workers, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) was born. However it was not until 1965, when the Delano Growers cut wages, that Cesar and the NFWA chose to fight back, first by striking and then by walking from Delano to Sacramento, seeking the U.S. government’s support.

Again, Krull and Morales hold the reader’s attention, page after glorious page, as they describe the historic 340-mile peace protest march that Cesar and 57 migrant workers undertook: their trials and tribulations, the many who cared for them en route, and their exhilarating arrival in Sacramento.

To research her art for this award-winning biographical picture book, Morales visited the fields where Cesar Chavez lived and worked, and traveled the route of the march. Krull closes with an author’s note, which includes additional information for inquiring young minds. There is no doubt in my mind that Harvesting Hope will give elementary-aged readers a clearer perspective on produce the next time they visit their grocery store.

More Jane Addams Award children's book award winners.

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