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The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

The Book Club Novel Guide outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lesson plans focusing on The House on Mango Street.

Buy the Novel Buy the Book Club Novel Guide

Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of The House on Mango Street.

A Synopsis

Esperanza, an eighth grader, has just moved to a crumbling and cramped house on Mango Street. In a series of short, interconnected vignettes, she describes her working-class family and the people in her Mexican American neighborhood. These portraits reveal the harshness of her surroundings and highlight the unhappy and constricted lives of most of the women she meets. Nowhere, it seems, is there a role model for this budding young writer.

Esperanza still enjoys the childish pleasures of bike riding, jumping rope, and playing in an overgrown lot with her girlfriends. But she is also discovering her attraction and attractiveness to boys. This path is fraught with danger and disappointment, as shown in the portraits of Marin and Rafaela, dreamy girls waiting to be rescued by a man; Rose Vargas, a deserted wife with too many children; and especially Esperanza’s friend Sally, a girl who marries while still in high school and becomes a virtual prisoner in her own house. Any romantic illusions that Esperanza maintains are shattered when a boy from Sally’s group forces himself on her at a carnival.

Esperanza is determined to take charge of her life and does receive some encouragement. Her dying Aunt Lupe urges her to keep writing. Minerva, a teenaged mother with an abusive husband, shares her poems with Esperanza. Her mother, who quit school to go to work, tells her to study hard and not to be ruled by feelings of shame. The novel ends with Esperanza’s visualization of living alone in a quiet house, far from Mango Street, where she can write. As a writer, she vows to come back “for the ones I left behind.”

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

About the Author and the Book

Investigating Latino Writers for Young Readers

  • Bibliography of Children's Literature focusing on Latino People, History, and Culture — This bibliography focuses on books about Latinos. It lists resources on teaching Latino literature as well as picture books, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction such as biographies, reference books, and histories.
  • Rudolfo Anaya — Gale Cengage Learning provides this site. Find information on this popular Chicano writer and including background information on his well-known work Bless Me, Ultima.
  • Gary Soto — This site includes a biography of this popular writer, who is the son of Mexican immigrants and whose writing reflects his Hispanic heritage. The site also includes bibliographies and links to other, relevant sites.
  • List of Latino Authors — Pat Mora's site includes a list of Latino children's and young adults authors and illustrators.

Learn About the Spanish Language

  • English Words Borrowed from Spanish — This site explains how the English language has been influenced and enriched by the Spanish language. It lists English words that come from Spanish and provides brief definitions.
  • 1 2 3 Teach Me. Learn Spanish free online. — This site covers numbers, phrases, months, days of the week, colors, and many other words and phrases required in Spanish.

Big Theme Questions

Why is it important to have dreams and to hold onto them?

How does a person discover where he or she belongs?

How and to what extent do gender, race, and economic class define who we are?

What role does self-acceptance play in growing up?

How can we find happiness and beauty in everyday experience, no matter where we live?

Outline of Lesson Plan | Discussion Topics | Writing Prompts

The following section can be used to get discussions started in your classroom. It is based on the Lesson Plan within the Book Club Novel Guide for The House on Mango Street. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for the students that support the writing prompts. The writing prompts provided are meant as suggestions only. As students become more comfortable with the Book Club format, they will certainly have ideas and questions that go beyond the prompts. Consider giving students “free choice” as a log option. Book Club Reading Logs help students respond to literature and organize ideas as they participate in Book Club.


“The House on Mango Street” through “Boys & Girls”
Literary Elements: Genre; Conflict

  • How is this novel different from others you have read? Do you like the form and style of the novel? Why or why not?
  • Describe the tension or conflict in the main character’s life. Have you ever felt a similar conflict? Explain.
  • Respond to this quotation: “The boys and the girls live in separate worlds. The boys in their universe and we in ours.”

“My Name” through “Our Good Day”
Literary Elements: Figurative Language

  • What does Esperanza admire about her greatgrandmother? What makes her feel sad about her greatgrandmother?
  • Write a journal entry titled “My Name” in which you express your opinion about the name you were given. Be sure to use figurative language in your entry.
  • Draw a picture of a scene from this section that features one or more characters. Reread the scene to find details to include in your drawing.

“Laughter” through “Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin”
Comprehension: Questioning

  • What do you learn about Esperanza in this section from her statements, observations, and responses to other people?
  • How did you feel reading about the girls’ experience at Gil’s junk store?
  • Choose a character or situation described in one of the vignettes and write your response to or analysis of it.

“Marin” through “Darius & the Clouds”
Literary Elements: Characterization

  • Write a paragraph identifying Esperanza’s main traits. Describe the characterization techniques Cisneros uses.
  • Describe some of the people who live in Esperanza’s neighborhood. Do any of them remind you of people you know?
  • How is the section “Darius and the Clouds” similar to “Gil’s Furniture Bought and Sold”? What do both of these sections have to say about beauty?

“And Some More” through “The Family of Little Feet”
Language Conventions: Dialogue

  • How is Alicia different from the other young women Esperanza has met so far? Why is her life difficult?
  • Write a poem or a dialogue between two people on the subject of clouds.
  • Record some sensational similes and marvelous metaphors and your reactions to them.
  • What do you think was the author’s purpose for writing the scene in which the girls dress up in “those magic high heels”?

“A Rice Sandwich” through “Hips”
Comprehension: Building Vocabulary

  • Define five or six new vocabulary words from your reading and use them in sentences.
  • Did “A Rice Sandwich” end the way you expected? Explain.
  • What do the girls talk about as they practice their double-dutch jump rope? Does their talk seem realistic? Explain.
  • What connections can you make between “Hips” and “The Family of Little Feet”? Do you think Esperanza is looking forward to becoming a young woman? Explain.
  • Make up a jump-rope rhyme about growing up that ends with the phrase “Yes, no, maybe so.” Share it with a classmate.

“The First Job” through “Born Bad”
Composition: Character Sketch

  • What was your reaction to Esperanza’s experiences on her first day of work?
  • How would you describe Esperanza’s papa?
  • What does Esperanza’s poem in this section reveal about her?
  • Aunt Lupe tells Esperanza that writing “will keep you free.” In what way could writing keep a person free?

“Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water” through “Sire”
Language Conventions: Assessing Reading Logs and Book Club Discussions

  • Predict your own future based on your talents, background, and personality.
  • What do you think Elenita means by “a home in the heart”?
  • Why do you think Esperanza enjoys Ruthie’s company? Is Esperanza at all like Ruthie?
  • Do you think the author succeeds in describing Esperanza’s interest in Sire? Explain.

“Four Skinny Trees” through “No Speak English”
Literary Elements: Personification

  • How does Cisneros make the four skinny trees seem human?
  • Why does Esperanza identify with the trees?
  • In what way does Mamacita “not belong”?

“Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays” through “A Smart Cookie”
Literary Elements: Allusion

  • Explain the allusion to Rapunzel in this section.
  • What “quiet war” has Esperanza begun, and why?
  • What important advice does Esperanza get from her mother? Why does her mother give this advice?
  • Why might someone in Minerva’s situation decide to write poems?

“What Sally Said” through “Linoleum Roses”
Literary Elements: Symbolism

  • What is the attraction of the monkey garden for Esperanza? Why does she become unhappy there? What does the garden seem to symbolize?
  • Choose a symbolic element from the novel and describe its meaning and importance in the novel.

“The Three Sisters” through “Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes”
Comprehension: Answering the Theme Questions

  • In what way might wishing for something make the wish come true?
  • What theme or themes in the novel are suggested in this section?
  • In what way is it easy for Esperanza, but not the others, to leave Mango Street?
  • Reread Esperanza’s description of “a house of my own.” Visualize a place of your own that you might have someday. Write a paragraph or two describing it.
  • In what way will Esperanza come back to Mango Street?