Along with its Best Books citation, Publishers Weekly gave Esperanza Rising a starred review, citing its "lyrical, fairy tale - like style". It praised the way "Ryan poetically conveys Esperanza's ties to the land by crafting her story to the rhythms of the seasons" and the fact that "Ryan fluidly juxtaposes world events... with one family's will to survive". Kirkus Reviews disliked the "epic tone, characters that develop little and predictably, and... romantic patina". However it also found that the "style is engaging, her characters appealing", ultimately saying that the story "bears telling to a wider audience".
Children's Literature praised Esperanza Rising and suggested that it "would be a great choice for a multicultural collection". The book has been incorporated into school curriculum in literature, social studies, and Spanish. The University of Missouri has a detailed literature unit available online, including maps, photos and links to other resources. Berkeley High School used recordings of the book with its English as a Second Language students in an Earphone English group. They found that Esperanza Rising doesn't just appeal to students who, like Esperanza, have emigrated from Mexico, but "also to those who have moved here after losing their fathers to violence in the former Yugoslavia".