My Brigadista Year

My Brigadista Year

In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro's national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro's army of young literacy teach...

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Title:My Brigadista Year
Author:Katherine Paterson
Rating:
Edition Language:English

My Brigadista Year Reviews

  • Dana

    Lora is a young girl who, at 13, decides to volunteer for Fidel Castro's literacy campaign to raise Cuba's literacy rate in a year. Lora struggles initially, but through the challenges is able to successfully teach the "students" under her tutelage. Despite my lack of knowledge of Cuba and the rocky history between Cuba and the US, I think this was a remarkable book.

  • Sherry

    Fascinating story about an event I had no knowledge about whatsoever: Cuba’s year of defeating illiteracy in 1961.

  • Jennifer

    [I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

    From the award-winning author of "Bridge To Terabithia" and "Jacob Have I Loved", this fictional memoir is set during and shortly after the Cuban revolution, as seen through 13-year old Lora's eyes. While now most of the Western world views Fidel Castro as an evil dictator, at the time he was seen as a liberator by many of the Cuban people and the atmosphere was very hopeful. One of Castro's goals was in

    [I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

    From the award-winning author of "Bridge To Terabithia" and "Jacob Have I Loved", this fictional memoir is set during and shortly after the Cuban revolution, as seen through 13-year old Lora's eyes. While now most of the Western world views Fidel Castro as an evil dictator, at the time he was seen as a liberator by many of the Cuban people and the atmosphere was very hopeful. One of Castro's goals was increased opportunities for education, and his regime created a sweeping literacy program that recruited young educated people, the "Brigadistas", to go and live with illiterate families in the country to teach them to read and write while also working in the fields along side them.

    Thirteen-year old Lora sees the recruitment poster at school, and is eager to do her part to help her country. Though her parents are understandably concerned about her safety and initially refuse to give permission, her grandmother persuades Lora's father to let her go, with the promise that Lora will come home if it becomes to hard or dangerous. Lora is very excited to be a part of something bigger than herself, and quickly forms strong friendships with her host family and their neighbors.

    However, despite her enthusiasm and dedication, Lora has to adapt to a much harder life that she is used to and faces many dangers and challenges along the way, causing her to doubt herself. Will Lora be able to see her mission through until the end, or will the threat from the members of the Batista regime who have hidden in the mountains prove to much? One young literacy worker has already been murdered; will there be more?

    This is wonderful coming of age story that I hope finds its audience. The voice is somewhat unique, while the events being described happened when the protagonist and narrator was 13, she is telling the story as an adult, thus the voice and point-of-view is more mature and sophisticated than that of many popular middle-grade books. Again, while this is historical fiction, I think being written as a memoir helps hook the reader and makes it seem more real, and I loved that it came complete with an epilogue, where the now grown Lora summarizes her life up to the present, which was a wonderful bonus to an already satisfying ending.

    The story is well-paced, with characters the reader will grow to love and care about. While the focus is on dedication, giving back, and being a part of something important, it gives a glimpse into the events of the revolution, and the lives of the campesinos, and there is an element of adventure and danger. I would recommend this for ages 10-14, and for readers who like historical fiction, or like inspiring stories about children accomplishing great things and being involved in important causes. Readers who may be interested in mission work, social causes, or teaching in particular would enjoy this book.

    While historical fiction typically doesn't find much of a readership among my patrons, I would talk up the revolution and adventure aspect and try to relate it to some of the dystopian novels that are popular to peak their interest, since they often deal with revolution, repressive regimes, and fighting illiteracy and misinformation as well.

  • Brenda

    My Brigadista Year, tells the story of 13-year old Lora who volunteers to join a governmental army of literacy teachers tasked with teaching its citizens to read and write in Havana Cuba during the 1960's. Before Lora could enlist, she had to get her parents to sign a permission slip, which they were very hesitant to do. As the eldest of three siblings, Lora was partially responsible for watching over the younger children and her parents were concerned for

    My Brigadista Year, tells the story of 13-year old Lora who volunteers to join a governmental army of literacy teachers tasked with teaching its citizens to read and write in Havana Cuba during the 1960's. Before Lora could enlist, she had to get her parents to sign a permission slip, which they were very hesitant to do. As the eldest of three siblings, Lora was partially responsible for watching over the younger children and her parents were concerned for her safety. As the only girl in the family, Lora's mother also wanted her daughter to be more "ladylike," a role that Lora wasn't eager to take. Lora's Abuela was the only one who seemed to understand her desire to want to feel useful and more like an adult, so she was instrumental in getting her father to agree to sign Lora's permission form. The story chronicles Lora's initial training as a Brigadista or literacy teacher at the Varadero Training Camp, transfer to her host family in the mountains, and subsequent tasks of educating them to be able to read and write so they can pass a competency exam. At the same time, it highlighted the dangerous counter-revolutionaries that were going on across the country and the fighters that were hiding within the same mountains as Lora and who were promising to kill any Brigadista's that they found.

    From the author's note, Paterson relates how My Brigadista is a fictional memoir but based on her own extensive research into the history of a major literacy campaign in Havana Cuba which ran from January 28th, 1961 through December 22nd. This was a very interesting look at a time period of which I knew very little about and having the author note and time line for Cuba's history at the back of the book came in handy. Having never taught before, Lora received training and I found the details about the textbooks they used and the manner in which they were to address their students very interesting. Specifically, that they used a book called "We Shall Overcome" and how it featured pictures matched with the words that were relevant to their students daily life or ones that were felt to be important for rebuilding their nation. According to the authors note, many of these volunteer teachers were young girls, between the age of ten to nineteen who volunteered to leave the city and live in the mountains, working side by side with their host families in the field or doing housework, so that they could develop a rapport to be able to teach them to read and write. And they were successful in raising the national literacy rate in only a years time. Overall, this was a fascinating, uplifting memoir and a very nice coming of age story. I'm hoping there will also be a teachers guide for My Brigadista Year because it would make for an interesting historical fiction companion novel to a unit on Cuba, specifically the lesser known literacy campaign that Fidel Castro instituted. Students could also further explore the Cuban revolution and discuss differing views of Fidel Castro's leadership of Cuba.

    * In exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the publisher.*

  • Jennifer (JenIsNotaBookSnob)

    I really enjoyed this. This is nicely paced historical fiction about the literacy campaign in Cuba in the 1960's. It's told from the perspective of a 14 year old girl who volunteers as a teacher for the campaign.

    Parents and teachers will love the historical notes at the end of the book as well as the listed source material.

    Kids will love that it's an adventure story that moves along nicely with enough suspense to hopefully keep kids reading. I really enjoyed reading more fiction based on Cuban

    I really enjoyed this. This is nicely paced historical fiction about the literacy campaign in Cuba in the 1960's. It's told from the perspective of a 14 year old girl who volunteers as a teacher for the campaign.

    Parents and teachers will love the historical notes at the end of the book as well as the listed source material.

    Kids will love that it's an adventure story that moves along nicely with enough suspense to hopefully keep kids reading. I really enjoyed reading more fiction based on Cuban history, my first exposure being "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao". Though there is some overlap in timelines, I do not remember the literacy campaign being mentioned in that book, so, it was all new to me.

    There is some violence in the book but it isn't described, it's just reported. There is no romance really in the book other than a friend of the main character has a crush on a boy which doesn't seem to be reciprocated. I never realized that having lighter skin was important in some sectors of Cuban culture until I read Oscar Wao. That also appears here, but, briefly.

    The only thing that gives me any pause is that Katherine Paterson is not Cuban. I could not find any complaints about inaccuracies in this book, so, for now I'm overlooking that.. lol

    Overall, I definitely recommend this to kids who enjoy historical fiction and adults who like reading juvenile fiction.

  • April

    I thought this book was excellent. Absolutely fascinating bit of history to learn about, and it was done so well. I will look forward to recommending this for middle grade and high school readers, not to mention adults as well.

  • Christine Fitzgerald

    Things I did not know about Cuba before reading this book.

    #1- Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, 99.75%. The USA is 86%.

    #2- In 1961 Fidel Castro’s idea of turning his beloved country around was literacy, so he campaigned for well read students as young as 12 to go out and teach those who didn’t know how to read.

    This is an inspiring story about a 13 year old girl who sets out to be a literacy teacher in order to save her country.

  • Ms. Yingling

    E ARC from Netgalley

    Lora's family is poor, but has a decent life in Havana in the late 1950s. Lora wants desperately to go to a better school, but her parents don't have money to send her. Her abuela, who is very forward thinking, offers Lora jewelry that she was saving for her and says she may sell it and use the money for school. Lora does. When she is 13, Lora decides to join the Literacy Brigadistas, which was an idea of Fidel Castro's to raise the literacy rate and help the poorer, less edu

    E ARC from Netgalley

    Lora's family is poor, but has a decent life in Havana in the late 1950s. Lora wants desperately to go to a better school, but her parents don't have money to send her. Her abuela, who is very forward thinking, offers Lora jewelry that she was saving for her and says she may sell it and use the money for school. Lora does. When she is 13, Lora decides to join the Literacy Brigadistas, which was an idea of Fidel Castro's to raise the literacy rate and help the poorer, less educated people understand concepts in his new government. The Brigadistas, who were often very young and female, were given brief training on how to teach reading and then sent out into remote areas of the country to live and work with families while teaching them to read. They were given hammocks, since the families wouldn't have extra beds, lanterns so that people could learn after their day of working on the farm, and instruction in basic agricultural practice so that they could help on the farms. Lora ends up living with Luis and Veronica, who have three small children, and is also in charge of educating the nearby family. While the women were pleased to learn to read, the men often did not want to learn from young girls. Lora enjoys being with the family and learning of their hardships, but the atmosphere in Cuba is very tense, and the brigadistas are fearful that the resistance will attack them. After making sure that her students all pass their exams, Lora returns to her family, and the experience has a profound effect on her life.

    Strengths: I've had several students with Cuban backgrounds who are very interested in reading stories like The Red Umbrella or 90 Miles to Havana. I had never heard of this initiative, and found it interesting that even with a higher literacy rate than other countries, Cuba thought that this was important enough to pursue, and that the country's literacy rate went up from 60% to 96%. The book concentrated more on the positives of teaching people to read, and Lora learned things from the family as well. There are extensive notes in the back of the book about the research, as well as a helpful time line.

    Weaknesses: My gut reaction is that some Cubans might not agree with this portrayal, but I just don't have the background in this area of the world to tell whether or not this is a novel representative of the feelings of Cuban's at this time. I am going to read more reviews before I purchase, just to make sure. As I said, it seems that Paterson covered all of her bases, and Lora isn't at all condescending to her students, but I don't have the background to judge competently.

    What I really think: I wish the cover incorporated some of the period photographs of brigadistas, so it would be very clear that this was a historical novel. Something about the illustration makes me think that this was published in the 1990s.

  • Lola  Reviewer

    3.5 stars. I found this story to be much more engaging than BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA from the same author, a book that struggled to keep my attention.

    Whereas MY BRIGADISTA YEAR had me at chapter one. It reads like a memoir. For me, this is a positive aspect, because I normally have an easy connection with characters that pour their hearts out on paper as though in a personal diary.

    I really could feel Lora’s voice as she narrated her adventures as a brigadista and had no trouble imagining what it wo

    3.5 stars. I found this story to be much more engaging than BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA from the same author, a book that struggled to keep my attention.

    Whereas MY BRIGADISTA YEAR had me at chapter one. It reads like a memoir. For me, this is a positive aspect, because I normally have an easy connection with characters that pour their hearts out on paper as though in a personal diary.

    I really could feel Lora’s voice as she narrated her adventures as a brigadista and had no trouble imagining what it would be like to be in her place.

    Lora is more courageous than she would be ready to admit. After all, no one forced her to be part of the Cuba Literacy Campaign. On the contrary, when she expresses wanting to go, her parents are shocked and immediately forbid her. She must fight for what she believes in.

    The only negative comment I could make is that it does get somewhat repetitive, seeing that Lora’s job is to teach the illiterate how to read and write as well as help them with their daily tasks. I liked that it hinted at gender roles and issues of inequality between men and women, but that is not the focus.

    A beautiful, inspiring story. Instructive without being history-heavy.

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  • JumbleofJargon

    is set in 1961 Cuba when Fidel Castro inspired volunteers to bring literacy to the entire country. We experience life in Cuba through the eyes of thirteen year old Lora as she joins volunteers in the campaign for nationwide literacy despite a volatile political environment.

    : During this campaign literacy increased in Cuba from 60% to 96% in one year which is pretty phenomenal. No other country has ever ac

    is set in 1961 Cuba when Fidel Castro inspired volunteers to bring literacy to the entire country. We experience life in Cuba through the eyes of thirteen year old Lora as she joins volunteers in the campaign for nationwide literacy despite a volatile political environment.

    : During this campaign literacy increased in Cuba from 60% to 96% in one year which is pretty phenomenal. No other country has ever accomplished something like this.

    The writing style is appropriate for the middle-grade readers. It's candid and straight-forward; no critical thinking or inference necessary -

    . Furthermore, when bad things occurred, Paterson tended to glaze over the tragedy spending no more than a few sentences (

    ). It's good to dwell on the positive things in our lives but if the bad things were explored a little bit longer, I think I would have understood the mindset of actual volunteers in Cuba during this time a bit better.

    Somethings I really liked was Paterson's brief look into racial tensions between Cubans who are descendants of the Taino people and Spanish Conquistadors and Cubans who are descendants of Africans who either immigrated to Cuba or were brought to Cuba by Spaniards for slave labor. She succinctly explores this tension with characters like Nora and Enrico who are looked down on for being "

    " or having "

    ". Paterson also talks about Cuba and other countries holding those with lighter skin in higher esteem than those with darker skin - people who are descendants of Africans or people tend to do hard labor, like farming, outside in the sun all day. Lora's attitude towards education and dislike for skirts and dresses helps the reader see some of the gender roles prevalent in Cuba in the 1960's.

    When I read about history,

    , I hope for it to be impartial so I can decide how I feel about a matter for myself. It seemed as though the author is a supporter of Fidel Castro. I'm American and growing up my grade school teachers often painted Fidel in a negative light because capitalists are immensely afraid of those with communists ideologies. Communism is not good for capitalists' business. While intrigued by this portrait of Fidel in a positive light, I'd prefer to learn about Cuba with an untainted, neutral lens.

    Nonetheless, it's conspicuous that Paterson conducted extensive research before/while writing this book. As someone who knew little about Cuba -

    - I found

    an incredibly enlightening read. I'm not fond of the partial tone Paterson writes with nor the diminutive quantity of text dedicated to Lora's hardships and some of the struggles Cubans in Havana and in the countryside face on a daily basis.

    Notwithstanding, I still believe this is a great resource for those who know little about Cuba and the incredibly successful 9-month nationwide literacy campaign.

    is a good place to start learning about Cuba -

    . However, I'd just suggest to continue learning about Cuba, as I hope to do this year. I hope to see Cuba from a broader perspective; I want to know the good as well as the bad. I know there is much that can be learned about Cuba's rich history and the Taino people.

    If you read this, I implore you to read the author's note to see the vast extent of research Paterson did and also read the succinct "

    " that Paterson generously provides at the end of the book.

    "

    "

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