Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez

author: Kathleen Krull
illustrator: Yuyi Morales
Harcourt, 2003
grades 3-6 
Mexican American

On the day after Thanksgiving in 1960, “CBS Reports” aired a documentary presented by broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow. Called “Harvest of Shame,” it was the first such program to bring to public attention the horrible conditions of migrant agricultural workers in the US.

Five years later, thousands of impoverished men and women, led by an agricultural worker named César Chávez, walked off their jobs in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, leaving huge fields of grapes to rot. Krull’s picture book, Harvesting Hope, focuses on the National Farm Workers Association’s 340-mile march—from the grape fields of Delano to Sacramento—to gain public support for their strike against the Delano grape growers.

The result of this effort—the longest protest march and the first agricultural strike in US history—was stunning. As Krull writes, “Some of the wealthiest people in the country had been forced to recognize some of the poorest as human beings.”

In Harvesting Hope, Krull embeds the struggle of the California agricultural workers into a biography of its leader—from his idyllic boyhood with his large family in Arizona, to the drought that forced them to migrate to California, to the racism he experienced in school, to the backbreaking work and grinding poverty in the fields, to his development as an organizer, to the founding of the National Farm Workers Association and finally, to the walkout and massive march to Sacramento. Krull is a good writer, and young readers will empathize with young César and the struggle he led.

But Morales’ gorgeous mural-like paintings, in acrylics and computer-created cutouts on a lush jeweled palette of mostly earth tones, will draw them into César Chávez’s world. Here is young César in school, wearing a sign that says, “I am a clown. I speak Spanish.” His eyes are downcast in humiliation, and the other children are looking on, a mixture of fear and shame on their faces. Here are the farmworkers, stooped over the crops. The physical pain is palpable. Here are the people—women with babies, men holding tools—marching out of the fields. Here is César at the head of a line of marchers, confronting the Delano police force. And here are the jubilant workers and their supporters, celebrating their victory. Highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/4/13)

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