Educator’s Guide: Under the Mesquite

Educator’s Guide: Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting held on May 6, 2013.

The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using Under the Mesquite (McCall, Lee & Low, 2011) in the classroom.  The complete guide is available for download at no cost:  Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guide: Under the Mesquite.

To read our thoughts on the novel, see our book review.


Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience.


  •  2012 Pura Belpré Award
  • 2012 William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist
  • 2013 Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award


About Guadalupe Garcia McCall:

Guadalupe Garcia McCall was born in Piedras, Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. Her family immigrated to the United States when she was six years old. She grew up in Eagle Pass, a small border town in South Texas, and the setting of Under the Mesquite. Trained in theater arts and English, she now teaches English/Language Arts at a junior high school. Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals. Under the Mesquite, her first book, is a contemporary novel inspired by the difficult experiences her own family went through during her teen years. McCall lives with her husband and their three sons in the San Antonio, Texas area.

A little more about the author in her own words:

My name is Guadalupe Garcia McCall, but most people call me Loop. I like to sit on my porch, listen to the sounds of nature, and write stories about the complexities and magic of growing up. When I write, I think about how important and valuable life and all of its experiences are, so I try to write stories that give meaning to those experiences. My debut novel, Under the Mesquite, is not just a story about personal loss; it is a story about the blessings of family and the power of memory and love. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Check out Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s website for more information about the author.


The following lesson plans are comprised of guided reading questions  organized by section and extended response writing prompts.

In addition to the lesson plans and activities included here, check out the excellent writing prompts and discussion questions provided by Lee & Low Books here. (

They also have some great supplementary materials like photos of the real Lupita and poetry podcasts with the author here. (


Guided Reading Questions

Part One: the weight of words | pages 1-26

  1. What is an umbilical cord? Why would Mami say that it connects her with Lupita? (p. 6-7)
  2. How old was Lupita when her family left Mexico? (p. 10)
  3. Why call Eagle Pass El Águila? What does aguila mean in Spanish? (p. 11)
  4. Read the section at the very beginning of the book.  What is a mesquite? How does Lupita describe it the first time the mesquite is mentioned in the book? (p. 11)
  5. What hints does the author give that something is wrong with Mami? (p. 13-14)  Make a prediction: What do you think is wrong with Mami?
  6. What does Mami have? How do we find out? (p. 20)
  7. What do you think of how Lupita’s friend Mireya responds? How would you have responded if you were Lupita’s friend? (p. 20-21)
  8. How does Lupita respond to Mireya? Why do you think she reacts this way? Imagine you are Lupita, how would you respond? (p. 20-21)
  9. What bargain does Lupita make if God will save her mother? (p. 25)
  10. Why do you think Mami won’t let Lupita leave to become a nun? Do you think Mami understands why Lupita wants to become a nun? (p. 25-26)

Part Two: remembering | pages 27-48

  1. Where does the beginning of Part Two take place? Is this different from Part One? (p. 29)
  2. What is a nopalera? Use the context clues to help. (p. 29)
  3. What does it mean when McCall writes that the nopalera “had been calling to her all morning. Mami. . .was anotjada, a victim of her food cravings? (p. 30)  Is there a food that you crave? Have you ever eaten cactus before?
  4. What does Papi tell Lupita will make her successful in the United States? What do you think he means by this? (p. 34)
  5. Does Lupita want to go to the United States? Why? (p. 34) What does Lupita miss the most about Mexico? (p. 35-36)
  6. Re-read pages 38 and 39.  How does Lupita compare los Estados Unidos and Mexico?  Based on her descriptions, do you think she likes the United States?
  7. Is it easy for Lupita’s family to return to Mexico to visit? Think about all of the immigration debates and issues now.  Do you still think that it’s easy for families to travel back and forth? (p. 39-41)
  8. How many sisters does Lupita have? Do they get along? (p. 42-45) Do you have any siblings? How is your relationship with your siblings like or unlike Lupita’s?

Part Three: crossing borders | pages 49-98

  1. Where does Lupita go every Sunday? Why? (p. 56-57)
  2. What class does Lupita start taking her sophomore year? What does Mami tell everyone Lupita is going to be when she’s older? (p. 62)
  3. How do Mami and Lupita spend time together every afternoon? (p. 63)
  4. What does Sr. Cortés give to Lupita to help her lose her accent? Why do you think she would need to lose her accent to become an actress? (p. 65-67)
  5. Does Lupita have a quinceañera? What’s involved in a quinceañera? Does it sound like Lupita wants to have one? (p. 69-71)
  6. What does señorita mean for the different people in Lupita’s life: her friends? Mami? Her tías? Her father? Her sisters? Lupita? (p. 73-77) Is turning 15 important in the U.S.? What age do you think is equally important in U.S. culture? Do you think there’s an age where everything changes like Lupita describes?
  7. What do Sarita and Mireya do in the cafeteria? What do they accuse Lupita of? Why do you think they do this? (p. 78-80)
  8. How does Lupita describe what it means to be a Mexican? How is that different from how Sarita and Mireya seem to define it? (p. 83)
  9. How does Lupita know that Mireya has read her notebook? (p. 91)
  10. What does Lupita win at the District Meet? (p. 92)
  11. How does Lupita describe her relationship with Mireya? Do you have anyone like that in your life? (p. 95)

Part Four: give us this day | pages 99-136

  1.  What news does Lupita get at the beginning of Part Four? (p. 101)
  2. What do you think Lupita means when she says “Cancer has more than/invaded our home./ It has closed the doors/ behind itself, drawn the curtains,/ and locked us in for good.” (p. 103)
  3. How does Mami’s philosophy on growing roses seem to contradict her approach to her family? (p. 105-106)
  4. How does Mami react to Lupita’s performance? Why do you think she is so moved by it even though she can’t understand the English? (p. 107-108)
  5. What has Lupita used acting to help cope with? She doesn’t tell her mother this, why do you think she holds that back? (p. 109)
  6. What has happened to all the money in the accounts that Papi opened for each child? (p. 112)
  7. What plan do Papi and Lupita make so that Mami can go to the cancer clinic in Galveston, TX? (p. 115-116)
  8. How do Lupita’s siblings respond when she’s in charge? Is it easy for her to be the authority figure? (p. 117-119)
  9. What does Lupita realize about Mami when she has to take over for her? (p.117-122) Imagine you were 17 and in charge of 7 younger siblings.  What do you think that would be like?
  10. What does the mesquite become for Lupita? (p. 123)
  11. Does Papi return in the fall when the children return to school? (p. 124-125)
  12. What does Paco do that makes life a little more bearable, at least for one night? Is this what you expected when he left earlier in the day? (p. 128)
  13. How have the children survived while Mami and Papi were gone? (p. 131-132)

Part Five: cut like a diamond | pages 137-174

  1. When do Mami and Papi return home? What does Mami look like? Has she changed? (p. 139-140)
  2. When the family goes back to visit Mexico for the weekend, Lupita realizes how different her life is in the U.S.  How is her life different from that of her cousins now? (p. 146-150).
  3. What has Mami seen that has her up and crying in the middle of the night? What does Mami believe this means? (p. 153)
  4. Who does Lupita finally talk to about everything that is going on? What advice does he give her? Do you think it is good advice? (p. 157-161)
  5. How do the children find out that their mother has died? (p. 170)
  6. Re-read Lupita’s description of her mother on pages 172-174.  Which is your favorite stanza describing Mami? Why?

Part Six: words on the wind | pages 175-210

  1.  What happens to Mami’s rose garden? What does Lupita compare it to? (p. 177-178)
  2. What do you think Mr. Cortes means when he tells Lupita, “Lupita, no matter how much it rains,/ the roads won’t stay flooded./ Eventually everything dries out again./ It just takes awhile.”? (p.183)
  3. Where does Papi want Lupita to go for the summer? Why does he think this will help? (p. 185-186)
  4. The scene with the sheets in the wind seems to be symbolic of Lupita—how do you think the sheets represent Lupita? (p. 192) What do you think Abuela Hortencia means when she says, “Sometimes it’s best to take things down/ and start all over again/ It’s the way of the world, Lupita/ No use fighting it.”? (p. 193-194)
  5. Why doesn’t Papi want  Lupita to go away to college? (p . 199-201)
  6. What does Lupita decide to do about college? (p. 202-207) What do you think of her decision?

Reflective Writing Questions

  1. Compare what Lupita is like at the beginning of the book with who she has become by the end.  How has she changed? How would you describe her at the beginning? At the end? What experiences do you think changed her the most?
  2. Lupita experiences a number of things during her high school years that impact her life greatly.  Have you ever experienced anything like that? What were your experiences? How do you think they changed you?
  3. Guadalupe Garcia McCall explores a number of relationships throughout her novel, like Lupita and her siblings, Lupita and her parents, and Lupita and her friends.  Think about what these relationships were like and how they changed throughout the book.  Which relationship was your favorite? Why? Could you identify with what Lupita experienced?
  4. Lupita is able to manage everything that happens to her over these four years because of her writing and acting.  Why do you think these things helped her? What is it about the arts that helps us to deal with or process difficult experiences? What would you do to cope with similarly difficult experiences?
  5. How does the mesquite tree come to represent Lupita? How are Lupita and the tree alike by the end of the story? If you had to pick something to represent you, what would you pick? Why?


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared 5/2013 by Adam Flores, LAII Graduate Assistant, and Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant.



7 thoughts on “Educator’s Guide: Under the Mesquite

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Under the Mesquite | Vamos a Leer

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    • I don’t know the word count but the text of the book is 207 pages. Because it is a novel-in-verse there is a great deal of white space on each page, it’s definitely not text dense.

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