Napa County Reads study guide the Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child

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Napa County Reads



The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child

By Francisco Jiménez

Napa County Reads is a joint project between the Napa County Office of Education, the Napa City-County Library, Napa Valley College,

and the Five School Districts in Napa County
Table of Contents ________________________
About the Writer ………………………………. 23

About the Book ………………………………… 43 ………………………………… 3

Before Reading the Book ………………..…….. 776

Ways to Participate 8

Make a Connection 96

Assessment Options ……………………………. 10

Reading Comprehension Strategies 14

……………………………. 9

Opportunities for Assessment ………………… 11

Reading/Language Arts 20 ……………………..… 13

History/Social Science 29Understanding Characters ………………….… 21

Vocabulary …………………………………….. 24

Essay ……………………………………………. 27

History/Social Science …………………………. 30

Glossary ……………………………...…………. 84 78

About the Writer

Francisco Jiménez

Francisco Jiménez was born in the small village of San Pedro Tlaquepaque, Mexico, and came to the United States with his family at age four. "My parents brought the family across the border to seek work in the United States and leave poverty behind," he says. "We settled in Santa Maria, California, from Santa Rose to Bakersfield. From the time I was six years old, I worked in the fields alongside my parents and older brother. Just as I entered high school, my father's illness forced us to abandon the harvest circuit, and I was able to attend school full time from then on. While attending high school I worked with my older brother for a commercial janitorial service company to support our family.

"I began writing autobiographical pieces during my sophomore year in high school. Audrey Bell, my English teacher, encouraged the class to write narrative accounts of personal experiences. Even though I had difficulty expressing myself in English, I enjoyed the assignments. Long after I left her class, I would jot down recollections, hoping to write about them in the future."
In 1995, Mr. Jiménez took a year-long sabbatical to write The Circuit Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, an account of his childhood experiences. The Circuit , which has been published in Spanish and Chinese, was his first Junior Library Guild selection and won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and a Jane Addams Children's Honor Book Award. A one-act play based on the book was performed by the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts at Hancock College in Santa Maria, California.
Francisco Jiménez says, "Breaking Through, the sequel to The Circuit, spans crucial years of my young adult life. I wrote this sequel to pay tribute to my family and teachers and to document part of my own history, but more importantly to voice the experiences of many children and young adults who confront numerous obstacles in their efforts to 'break through and become butterflies.' How they manage to 'break through' depends as much on their courage, hope, and God-given talents as it does on living, compassionate, and generous people who commit themselves to making a difference in children and young adult lives."
Francisco Jiménez is the Department Chair of modern languages and literatures at Santa Clara University. He and his wife, Laura, have three sons.

About the Book

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child


Text by Kathryn Bold

Like the Joad family in the Steinbeck classic, Grapes of Wrath, the Jimenez’s came to California to escape poverty and find a better life. In the first chapter of The Circuit, titled "Crossing la Frontera" (the border), told from a child's point of view, Jimenez describes his family's flight from their home in a small village north of Guadalajara across the border into the United States:

“On both sides of the fence were armed guards in green uniforms. Papa called them la migra and explained that we had to cross the fence to the other side, without being seen by these men. If we succeeded, we would enter los Estados Unidos....We continued walking along the wire wall, until Papa spotted a small hole underneath the fence. Papa got on his knees and, with his hands, made the opening larger. We all crawled through it like snakes."

“A few minutes later, we were picked up by a woman whom Papa had contacted in Mexicali. She had promised to pick us up in her car and drive us, for a fee, to a place where we would find work. As we traveled north through the night, I fell asleep for a long time on Mama's lap. I woke up at dawn and heard the woman say, we're entering the San Joaquin Valley. Here you'll find plenty of work. ‘This is the beginning of a new life,’ Mama said, taking a deep breath. ‘A good life,’ Papa answered.

As it turned out, many years would pass before anyone in the Jiménez family experienced that good life. Jiménez’s father, Francisco, his mother Joaquina, and his older brother Roberto, found work picking crops in the fields. So began the cycle of moving from camp to camp, following the harvest.

The family, which eventually grew to nine children, lived in one-room shacks and tents. In the summer, they picked strawberries in Santa Maria. Then they traveled to Fresno to pick grapes in early September and on to Corcoran and Bakersfield to pick cotton in the winter. In February, they moved back to Santa Maria to thin lettuce and top carrots.

Working from sunup to sundown, the entire family earned just $15 a day. Jiménez called this nomadic existence "the circuit" in a short story by that title that has been reproduced many times in textbooks and anthologies of American literature.

"It's a symbolic circuit," he says. "If you're a migrant worker, you're constantly living in poverty. It's very difficult to get out of it."

Yet Jiménez soon found relief from the hard life in the fields and a way to escape the circuit: school. "I came to realize that learning and knowledge were the only stable things in my life. Whatever I learned in school, that knowledge would stay with me no matter how many times we moved."

Because Jiménez could not start school until after the mid-November harvest and because he knew so little English, he struggled to keep up with his classmates. One teacher even labeled him mentally retarded.

"I would start school and find myself behind, especially in English," he remembers. "School for the first nine years was very sporadic."

Still, Jiménez was luckier than his brother Roberto, who was old enough to pick cotton and therefore could not start school until February. In "The Circuit," Jiménez describes the pain of leaving his brother behind on his first day back at school:

"I woke up early that morning and lay in bed, looking at the stars and savoring the thought of not going to work and starting sixth grade for the first time that year. Since I could not sleep, I decided to get up and join Papa 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. He was not going tomorrow, or next week, or next month."

Unlike many of his classmates, Jiménez looked forward to the days he spent in school. "I had many embarrassing moments; but in spite of those, I enjoyed the environment," he says. "School was a lot nicer than home. Many times, we lived in tents with dirt floors, no electricity or plumbing. In school we had electricity, plumbing, lighting. We even had toys."

Although the physical environment was pleasant, interactions with classmates often were not. "Kids would call me spic, or greaser, tamale wrapper. They made fun of my thick accent and whenever I made grammatical mistakes. That really hurt. I withdrew and became quiet," Jiménez says.

Fortunately, Jiménez sometimes encountered a friendly teacher who recognized his desire to learn. His sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Lema, helped him with his English during lunch. Discovering that Jiménez enjoyed music, the universal language, Lema offered to teach him to play the trumpet.

But Jiménez never got his first lesson. When he went home to tell his mother and father the good news about his music lessons, he found the family's possessions neatly packed into cardboard boxes. They were moving again.

To compensate for his sporadic education, Jiménez began teaching himself. He would jot down words he was trying to memorize on a small note pad and carry it with him into the fields so he could study during his breaks.

Whenever his family visited the local public dump to collect discarded clothes, wood for a floor, and other necessities, Jiménez would pick up books. Once he found a single volume of an encyclopedia. Not realizing it was part of a 20-volume set, he leafed through its pages, figuring that if he could learn to read the whole thing, he'd know just about everything there was to know.

Wherever he was, Jiménez always knew to run and hide from la migra (Immigration and Naturalization Service agents), especially when they made their sweeps through the fields and camps.

Jiménez and his family lived in fear of being deported. His father had a visa, but the others did not; visas were too expensive. Jiménez remembers the INS officers interrogating people and sometimes beating them. When someone asked where he was born, he lied.

When he was in junior high school, INS agents entered Jiménez's classroom and arrested him as an illegal immigrant. The family was deported to Mexico but returned after several weeks with visas obtained with the help of a Japanese sharecropper who sponsored them.

Jiménez's life changed forever when he was about to enter high school. Because his father suffered from permanent back pain--probably from too many hours bent over the crops--he could no longer work in the fields. It was up to Roberto to support the family.

Roberto found a job as a janitor at a school in Santa Maria; Jiménez also worked for a janitorial company. Now the family did not have to follow the harvest. Now Jiménez could start school with the rest of the class and keep up with his studies.

"The work was indoors; and after I was done cleaning, I could study in an office," he says. "This was my chance."

With his newfound stability, Jiménez thrived. He became student-body president of his high school and earned a 3.7 GPA. A guidance counselor, disturbed that a gifted student was not going to college because the family could not afford to send him, managed to arrange for Jiménez to obtain scholarships and student loans so that he could enroll at Santa Clara University.

Before Reading the Book

The Circuit: Stories from the Life

of a Migrant Child

  • Discuss with students what a migrant worker does. Talk about the many crops which migrant workers gather, such as grapes, strawberries, apples, peaches, cherries, and cotton.

  • With a partner, think of a situation in which a young person makes an unintentional mistake or is otherwise embarrassed in front of other people. Imagine how this person would feel, and then think about the encouragement or advice an older friend or relative might give this person to help them feel better about what happened. Then, role-play the conversation between the young person and supportive friend. The conversation should open with the young person explaining the embarrassing moment. The friend or relative can offer insights or comfort. After you have role-played this scene, switch roles with your partner and role-play a different situation. When you have finished, discuss the different ways you can go about helping someone through a difficult experience.

  • Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn. With a partner, think about a dream you have for the future. Then, discuss this scenario: Imagine that your family has to relocate to another country. How would you cope with losing something – a person, a way of life, an experience? Make notes about how you would react to such a difficult situation. What plans would you make to fulfill your dreams? Discuss your revised vision of the future with your partner. As you read The Circuit, pay attention to how Francisco deals with his own obstacles in living in the United States.

Ways to Participate

The Circuit

  1. Read the book The Circuit by Francisco Jiménez. . You can get a copy of the book at a bookstore near you, or at any branch of the Napa City-County Library. The book is also available in Spanish.

  1. If you are in a book club, suggest the club read and discuss the book at your September meeting. A discussion guide is available on the website.

  1. Host an informal book discussion group at home with friends or neighbors or at your workplace with interested readers. A discussion guide will be available on the website.

  1. Have your family read the book aloud, perhaps a chapter at a time. Discuss the themes of the book and compare your family to the Jiménez family’s situation. Make a list of things for which your family is grateful and discuss ways to help people who are less fortunate.

  1. Attend a free community discussion group in October. A calendar of events will be posted on the Napa County Office of Education website ( and publicized in the Napa Valley Register. .. The author will be speaking at several Napa locations on October 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, 2003.

  1. Organize a book discussion group at your place of worship and consider “adopting” an immigrant family who is working to get ahead.

  1. Participate in the on-line forum on the website to discuss the book with others.

  1. Write a letter to the author expressing what you liked or learned from the book. You can send your letter to: Professor Francisco Jiménez, Santa Clara University, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053-0632

Make a Connection

The Circuit

Have students remember a time when they have had to say goodbye to someone. What positive or negative emotions did they experience?
Have students recall a time when they conquered a fear or mastered a task that was difficult for them. Discuss how they felt when they succeeded.
Have students remember a time when they made a new friend. Discuss how valuable a friend can be in a difficult situation.
Have students think of a time when they traveled to a new place. Were they excited or anxious? Discuss the emotions associated with experiencing an unfamiliar location or landscape.
As they read, have students keep notes about the external and internal conflicts that Francisco experiences and how he deals with each one.

Assessment Options

The Circuit

Francisco Jiménez

Assessment Options

The Circuit
Perhaps the most important goal of assessment is to inform instruction. As you monitor the degree to which your students understand and engage with the book, you will naturally modify your instructional plan. The frequency and balance of class and small-group discussion, the time allowed for activities, and the extent to which direct teaching of reading skills and strategies, literary elements, or vocabulary can all be planned on the basis of your ongoing assessment of your students' needs.
Several forms of assessment are particularly appropriate for work with the novel:

Observing and note taking Anecdotal records that reflect both the degree and the quality of students' participation in class and small-group discussions and activities will help you target areas in which coaching or intervention is appropriate. Because communication skills are such an integral part of working with the novel in a classroom setting, it is appropriate to evaluate the process of making meaning in this social context.

Observing yourself with dialogue journals and letters You may want to exchange notes with students instead of, or in addition to, encouraging them to keep reader's logs. A powerful advantage of this strategy is that at the same time you have the opportunity to evaluate students' responses; you can make a significant difference in the quality of the response. When students are aware that their comments are valued (and addressed to a real audience - an audience that writes back), they often wake up to the significance of what they are reading and begin to make stronger connections between the text and their own lives.
Agreeing on criteria for evaluation If evaluation is to be fair, it must be predictable. As students propose and plan an activity or project, collaborate with them to set up the criteria by which their work will be evaluated, and be consistent in applying only those criteria.
Encouraging self-evaluation and goal setting When students are partners with you in creating criteria for evaluation, they can apply those criteria to their own work. You might ask them to rate themselves on a simple scale of 1, 2, or 3 for each of the criteria and to arrive at an overall score. Students can then set goals based on self-evaluation.
Peer evaluation Students can participate in evaluating one another's demonstrations and presentations, basing their evaluations upon a previously established set of standards. Modeling a peer-evaluation session will help students learn this method, and a chart or checklist can guide peer discussion. Encourage students to be objective, sensitive, courteous, and constructive in their comments.
Opportunities for Assessment
The suggestions in this Study Guide provide multiple opportunities for assessment across a range of skills:

  • Demonstrating reading comprehension

  • Keeping reader's logs

  • Listening and speaking

  • Working in groups - both discussion and activity oriented

  • Planning, developing, and presenting a final project

  • Acquiring vocabulary

  • Taking tests

Items for a "Working" Portfolio

  • Drafts of written work and project plans

  • Audio - and videotapes of presentations

  • Notes on discussions

  • Reminders of cooperative projects, such as planning and discussion notes

  • Artwork

  • Objects and mementos connected with themes and topics in the novel

  • Other evidence of engagement with the book

Questions for Self-evaluation and Goal Setting

  • What are the three most important things I learned in my work with this book?

  • How will I follow up with these so that I remember them?

  • How did I deal with the difficulty and what would I do differently?

  • What two goals will I work toward in my reading/writing/group work?

  • What steps will I take to achieve those goals?

Reading Compre/Language Artshension



The Circuit

Francisco Jiménez

LThese instructional strategies are specifically designed for essons for Reading/Language Arts may be adapted and


for middle school and high schoolreluctant readers but will work well for most of your students..

The Circuit

Constructing Meaning

Dependent readers often don’t understand how to construct meaning from text. They allow their minds to wander while they read, and their eyes move over the page without comprehension.

The Say Something technique (Harste, Short, and Burke, 1988) interrupts students’ reading and gives them a chance to think about what it means.

Here’s how it works. Students work with a partner. They read 3-4 paragraphs silently, then stop to “say something.” The “something” may be a prediction, a question, a clarification, a comment, or a connection. The partner should offer a response to what was said, and then they continue reading the next portion of the text.

Rules for Say Something

  1. With your partner, decide who will say something first.

  2. When you say something, do one or more of the following:

    • Make a prediction

    • Ask a question

    • Clarify something you had misunderstood

    • Make a comment

    • Make a connection

  3. If you can’t do one of those five things, then you need to reread.

Make a Prediction Ask a question

- I predict that… - Why did…

- I bet that… - What’s this part about…

- I think that… - Why…

- Since this happened, (fill - Who is….

in detail) then I bet the - Do you think that…

next thing that is going - I don’t get this part here…

to happen is…. - How is this part like this…

- Reading this part make me - What does this section mean..

think that this (fill in detail)

is about to happen…

- I wonder if….

Clarify Something Make a Comment

- Oh, I get it… - This is good because…

- Now I understand… - This is hard because…

- This makes sense now… - This is confusing because…

- No, I think it means… - I like the part where…

- I agree with you. This means.. - I don’t like this part because…

- At first I thought (fill in), but - My favorite part is…

now I think… - I think that….

Make a Connection

- This reminds me of… - This is similar to…

- This part is like… - I also (name something in the text that

- This character is like… has happened to you)

Tea Party

This pre-reading strategy gives students a chance to get up and move around the classroom, while they predict, compare and contrast, and draw on their prior experiences.

First, you select phrases from the story that might provide insight into characters, setting, or conflicts. Choose less than half as many phrases as you have students, so each phrase will be repeated two or three times.

Print the phrases individually on index cards. Give one card to each student. Ask everyone to get up and move from student to student to share their card with as many classmates as possible, listen to others read their cards, discuss how the cards might be related, and speculate on what the cards, all together, might be about.

Students move around sharing their cards for 10 to 12 minutes. Then have them get into groups of 5 and share their cards, discussing what they heard when they walked around the room. Then the group must come up with a “We think” statement that briefly describes what they think the selection will be about. When they report their “we think” statements, ask them to explain how they reached their prediction. Then read the selection, so they can revisit their predictions.

Think Aloud

Another technique that you can use to help your students pay attention to the meaning of the text is the Think-Aloud strategy. As students read, they pause occasionally to think aloud about connections they are making, images they are creating, or problems they are having understanding the text. This will help you to understand why the student is having difficulty, and will help the student analyze how he is thinking about reading.

First you will need to model the strategy for the class. Tell them that you will be reading a portion of The Circuit aloud to them, and as you are reading, you will be stopping to think through what you are reading. Ask them to listen for when you predict, visualize (or picture in your mind), question, clarify, connect, comment, monitor your understanding, or identify ways to correct your misunderstandings. Tell them that skilled readers do this regularly as they read.

You might start by looking at the cover of the book. You might comment, “The book is called The Circuit. When I think of circuits, I think of electricity. But when I look at the picture on the cover, there’s nothing that would suggest electricity. So “circuit” must mean something else. The rest of the title says that these are stories from the life of a migrant child. What does “migrant” mean? It must be related to migrate, which means to move from one place to another. So these stories must be about a child who moves around from place to place. So maybe a circuit is a regular route that he travels around.

Then you might begin reading chapter one aloud.

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 1940’s when Papa and Mama 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.”

You might say, “I see that this happened in the 1940’s. That’s about 60 years ago, so some of the things that happen in this story are going to see very old-fashioned and out of date. It says that the village he lived in was on barren, dry hills. That must mean that they can’t grow much food. He also says that Papa and Mama talked about leaving their poverty behind. So they’re poor, and they’re going to come from Mexico to California so they won’t be poor any more, which means “la frontera” must be the border between Mexico and the United States. I predict that the story will be about what happened when the family migrated to the United States.”

As you continue to read, paragraph by paragraph, you can stop and “think-aloud,” which will show students how you figure out what the words mean. When something is confusing, you might stop and say, “I don’t quite get this. I’d better reread it.” Or you might say, “Let me read a little further and see if I get a clue that will explain what this means.”

As you report out, make sure the students know you have stopped reading and are now thinking-aloud. You might put the book down as a visual clue. Occasionally, jot your comments on a transparency, and ask students to decide if you were predicting, commenting, showing confusion, clarifying your confusion, or visualizing what you were reading. This will help students understand what skilled readers do.

The think-aloud self-assessment form on the next page will help students figure out whether they stop to think about the meaning of what they are reading. You will need to model thinking-aloud often, and provide multiple opportunities for students to practice.

Insert Think-Aloud Self-Assessment Here Name__________________________________ Date__________________


Think-Aloud Self-Assessment

Part I. Read each statement below. Put a 1 by the items you do often, a 2 by the items you do sometimes, and a 3 by the ones you do rarely.

When I pause to think aloud…..

____ I make my mind try to visualize the scene. (visualizing)

____ I try to figure out which parts have confused me. (monitoring comprehension)

____ I compare what has happened now with what happened previously. (comparing)

____ I ask questions about what’s going on in the text. (questioning)

____ I make myself connect what I know to what’s happening in the story. (connecting)

____ I anticipate what a character might do next. (predicting)

____ I think about what the author is doing to give me hints about the characters or plot.

____ I wonder what the author wants me to figure out at this point. (questioning)

____ I try to figure out if I need to reread a section. (monitoring comprehension)

____ I think about the characters to see how they are alike or different. (comparing)

____ I try to connect the characters to people I know. (connecting)

Part II. Look at the numbers you put in the blanks in Part I.
  1. What do you do most often when you think aloud?

  2. Why do you think you do that the most?

  3. What do you do the least?

Part III. Complete the following statements to help you plan your next think-aloud.

  1. Think-alouds help me because…..

  2. I need to keep practicing (visualizing, predicting, comparing, monitoring comprehension, questioning) because……

3. In my next group of think-alouds I will……

Reading/Language Arts


The Circuit

Francisco Jimenez

Lessons for Reading/Language Arts

may be adapted and used for middle and high school.

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. What did you learn about the experience of Mexican-American migrant farm workers of the 1940s?

  2. How different would this book be if it were about migrant farm workers of Mexican descent today?

  3. How would these stories be different if they were told from the eyes of the father in the story? From one of Francisco’s teachers? From one of the landowners?

  4. What stereotypes are there about Mexican-Americans? Mexico? Migrant farm workers?

  5. What are some examples of racial prejudice in this story?

  6. What are some examples of power in this story? How is it used?

  7. What do you know of migrant farm workers in your community? Of Mexican-Americans? How could you find out more? What do the Mexican-Americans in your community express as their needs (if they are heard in your community)?
  8. This book is for adults and children. If you were giving this book as a gift to a child what would you want the child to know about the book and how young a child would you give this book to?

  9. In the section about the author, Jimenez talks about being given The Grapes of Wrath as a teenager and realizing it was the first book he had read to which he could relate. What are the stories of your cultural heritage and when did you read them? What stories are the children in your community being asked to read and does it relate to their cultural heritage? What values does this book share in its telling? How would you and folks from your congregation greet migrant farm workers such as Francisco’s family if they showed up in church? How is this book helpful in unlearning racism?

  10. What questions do you still have that you would like the group to discuss?

  11. What do you still wish to know more about and will explore on your own?

  12. What did you like most and least about the book?

  13. What did you feel and learn about yourself?

Things to Discuss

The Circuit

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