47 – Crochet in Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan is about a girl who learns to keep her hope after losing her old life in Mexico and starting a new one in the Central Valley of California at the height of the Great Depression. It’s also about crocheting. A lot of crocheting! Esperanza learns a lesson valuable to both crochet and life at the beginning of the story: “Do not be afraid to start over.”

The blanket pattern that Abuelita teaches is a zig-zag, with mountains and valleys that come to represent the highs and lows of Esperanza’s life. It’s a great first project for beginners, and is very forgiving of mistakes, especially if you use a chunkier yarn.

Mamá and Esperanza also make monas – cute little dolls – out of yarn. These dolls are quick and fun to make. They are a good way to use up leftover yarn and make for a fun class project.

Activity: Abuelita’s Zigzag Blanket

Note: this pattern uses American crochet terms. “single crochet” means “double crochet” if you use British crochet terms.

You can use any size yarn, although beginners should use thicker yarn (worsted weight or larger) as it will be easier to work with. Use a crochet hook appropriate to the yarn selected.

Chain a multiple of 20 stitches, stopping when you think you have made the blanket wide enough. Remember that the chain will not be straight, but form zig-zags, so make the foundation chain longer than the desired width of the blanket. Turn.

Row 1: 1 single crochet in each of the the next 10 chains.

Add one extra single crochet in the 10th chain.

1 single crochet in each of the next 9 chains.

Skip the next chain and work up the next mountain. Repeat the pattern to the end of the row. If you find that you have not put in the correct number of chains, remember what Abuelita said: “Do not be afraid to start over.” Chain 1 and turn.

Row 2: 1 single crochet in each of the next 10 stitches.

Add one extra single crochet in the last stitch.


1 single crochet in each of the next 9 stitches.

Skip the next stitch and begin repeating the pattern.

Continue to the end of the row. There will be one extra single crochet left at the end of the row after you count the last 9 stitches down the mountain. Leave that stitch. If you do not leave one empty stitch at the end of each row, the blanket will grow wider and wider as you go along. Chain 1 and turn.

Repeat Row 2 until the blanket reaches the desired length. You can make the blanket all of one color, create a pattern of stripes of similar or varying width, or try to recreate the blanket made by Esperanza in the book by using many different colors of yarn. If this blanket is made for a class project, students can each bring in a bit of yarn to contribute, and then try their hand at making the “mountains and valleys” of the blanket.

Activity: Esperanza’s Monas

Get some yarn. Any kind will do, although for beginners a worsted weight or chunkier yarn will be best. You will need a partner to hold out his or her hands about nine inches apart. Gently wrap the yarn around your partner’s hands about fifty times.

Tie some yarn tightly around one end of the loops. Be sure to leave the ends of this yarn long enough that they can blend in.

Tie another bit of yarn slightly lower to make a neck for the doll. Once again, leave the ends of this yarn long enough to match the rest of the yarn. Hold the doll by its neck, then cut the loops at the bottom.

Divide the yarn into four equal sections. Bring the two middle sections together to form a body. Loop a length of thread twice around where you want the doll’s waist to be and knot as tightly as you can.

Split the ends of the body section into two equal parts and continue braiding the legs. Tie yarn tightly around the ankles of the dolls, leaving two puffy feet. Do not tie the ankles too low or the knotted yarn will slip off. Braid each arm. Stop when the arms look long enough. There will be extra yarn on the arm portions. Tie off the wrists as for the ankles. Trim the excess yarn to make fluffy hands and feet.

If you like, you can decorate your yarn mona however you like. Add eyes, hair, or clothing with felt, cloth, or other materials.

Music in this Episode

“Naranja Dulce” a Mexican folk song

25 – Island of the Blue Dolphins: Feminism and Environmentalism

Scott O’Dell researched and wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins in the late 1950’s and published the book in 1960. The feminist and environmentalist themes in the book, while quite uncontroversial today, were incredibly groundbreaking for their time, being published a few years before books such as Silent Spring or The Feminine Mystique.

The fact that this book was published at all in 1960 is amazing. At the time, no media featured a female protagonist who never has a romantic partner, whose most significant relationship is a friendship with another woman, and who is capable of providing for herself without needing help. In fact, the first publisher O’Dell approached rejected the book because he thought it should have a male protagonist.

Using Karana’s direct, reasonable observations, O’Dell critiques the idea of banning women from employment or exploiting the natural world to the point of unsustainable degradation. Island of the Blue Dolphins can absolutely be appreciated as a straightforward survival story. But by understanding a little bit more about he context of the environmentalist and feminist movements in California in the 1950’s, readers ready for a deeper understanding of the world can delve into its themes and learn about how we can be better to one another and the world we live in.

Activity: 20th Century Environmental Efforts

Today it is generally accepted that we should use the resources of the earth in a sustainable manner, avoid creating excessive pollution, and treat animals humanely. But in the 1950’s this was a very new idea that was strongly resisted by politicians and leaders of industry. It was more attractive to dismiss concerns about pollution, habitat loss, and animal extinction than to make less profit by doing things sustainably.

Students can research an environmental cause of the 20th century in which scientists and conservationists turned out to be correct, and fixing the problem turned out to be expensive and difficult. Students can present their findings as a written report, a skit, or a multimedia presentation. Some examples of topics include:

Lead Poisoning

The chemical and petroleum industries deliberately misled the public for a long time about the dangers of lead, blaming parents when children became ill or died from exposure to the metal. Clair Cameron Patterson was the most prominent scientist to campaign against the use of lead in consumer products, resulting in improved health and longer lives for countless people.


DDT was sprayed on plants to kill insects. It is a highly powerful poison that lasts a long time when it gets into water, soil, and the bodies of animals. When mother birds were exposed to DDT, the eggs they laid had shells that were too thin. The eggs would break before the baby birds could be born, leading to a sharp decline in the numbers of birds in North America. The California Condor nearly went extinct because of DDT.

The Sierra Club and Environmental Laws

The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 and has continuously worked for laws that protect public land so that it can remain beautiful, healthy, and enjoyed by all visitors. Students can research one of the Sierra Club’s many successful efforts, such as working to pass the Wilderness Act in the US Congress or establishing Earth Day to raise awareness of environmental concerns.

24 – Island of the Blue Dolphins: Survival and Forgiveness

This episode covers the themes of survival and forgiveness in Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. Although these themes are timeless, it also helps to consider them in the context of the Cold War, which was rising to frightening prominence in the years during which O’Dell researched and wrote this book. As a veteran of both world wars, the author would have understood what was at stake if humanity, like Karana, could not learn to forgive mortal enemies and turn them into friends.

Karana would have been unable to survive physically without healing herself emotionally and letting go of those she had lost and her hatred of those who did her great wrong. Somehow, for reasons even she can’t fully understand at first, she does not take revenge when she has the chance. Her acts of empathy allow her to befriend Rontu, the leader of the dogs who killed her brother, as well as Tutok, a girl who is a member of the tribe that slaughtered most of her people. Karana’s ability to not just forgive her enemies but actually learn to love them provides a hopeful example for young readers, whether considered in the book’s Cold War context or the present day.

Activity: Why Did Karana Forgive Rontu?

Ask students to respond to the following prompt. This activity could be completed as a discussion in small or large groups, a brief written reflection, or a full essay.

Karana made a logical plan to kill the wild dogs that had killed her brother. Yet, after she had wounded Rontu, she was unable to finish him off. In fact, she took him home, healed him, and he became her beloved pet. Why do you think Karana held back from killing Rontu? Why do you think she forgave him? Do you think she would have done the same thing if she had had the chance to kill the Aleut who killed her father?

23 – Island of the Blue Dolphins: Lost but not Forgotten

This is the first of two episodes about the Newbery Award winning novel Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. This book is a work of speculative historical fiction that imagines what the life of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas might have been like. It is not and never could have been a work that reported history accurately, because the history can never truly be known. But O’Dell did his best to research what he could, and his novel ignited interest in researching the life of the Lone Woman that still burns bright today. Because of Island of the Blue Dolphins, not only is the Lone Woman not forgotten, but she and her lost culture have be the subjects of some of the best historical and archaeological research in the world.

This episode summarizes the most accurate information currently available about the life of the Lone Woman. Whenever Island of the Blue Dolphins is taught, kids want to know how much of the story is real. There are a lot of scraps of information you can find online, and very little of it is accurate. We now know that the stories recorded in the nineteenth century ranged from mostly true to flat out fabrications by people who never even met the Lone Woman of San Nicolas. Parents and teachers can use this episode to help them feel confident about answering kids’ questions about what we do and don’t know about the Lone Woman, or Karana as she’s called in the novel. The next episode will focus on the fictional story in Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Reliable Sources for learning about the true history of the woman that inspired Island of the Blue Dolphins

Channel Islands National Park guide to Island of the Blue Dolphins

Channel Islands National Park YouTube Channel


Articles written by the following people about San Nicolas Island and the Lost Woman of San Nicolas are very reliable:

    • John R. Johnson, an anthropologist with expertise on the languages and cultures of coastal and island tribes of Southern California
    • Susan L. Morris, a researcher who examines original documents such as maps, letters, shipping documents, company records, and newspapers to re-create an accurate timeline for the period of the Lone Woman’s life.
    • Steven J. Schwartz an archaeologist who worked for the US Navy doing excavations on San Nicolas island
    • René L. Vellanoweth, an anthropologist at California State University who has also led expeditions to sites on San Nicolas island
    • Carol Peterson, the education coordinator for Channel Islands National Park

Activity: What is a Reliable Source?

Talk with students about the definition of the word reliable: “consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted.” When doing research for school work, students should only use sources that are reliable.

Reliable sources:

    • Are written by someone who is an expert about the topic
    • Have information that is accurate and up to date
    • Do not express opinions without strong evidence behind them
    • Do not try to persuade the reader to agree
    • Are published by well-respected groups or people who have a good record of sharing accurate information

On a piece of paper or whiteboard, make two columns, one titled “reliable” and the other “unreliable.” Ask students to suggest sources of information that are reliable. They should come up with ideas like museums, scientists, researchers, teachers, librarians, experts, academic books, and so on. Ask students to also suggest sources which are unreliable sources of facts. They should list things like articles without an author, gossip, rumors, advertisements, political arguments, old and out of date documents, or sources which promote a belief at the expense of facts. Discuss how students can recognize the difference between reliable and unreliable sources.