My Brigadista Year

Katherine Paterson

My Brigadista Year
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My Brigadista Year

Katherine Paterson

When thirteen-year-old Nora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Nora has barely been outside of Havana - why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Nora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Nora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Nora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Nora know for sure when that time has come?

Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

Review

After visiting Cuba, Katherine Paterson, the legendary author of Bridge to Terabithia, was inspired to write this fascinating story. When Castro came to power in 1961 he resolved to stamp out illiteracy in Cuba. He recruited a volunteer army of students who moved into farms all around the country, working alongside the families and at night teaching them to read and write.

This warm, engaging novel is of one such student, thirteen-year-old Lora who, against the wishes of her father, leaves her life and family in the city to teach her fellow countrymen. When she first arrives none of her host family can even write their own names. By the end of Lora’s year, not only her hosts but neighbouring families have learned to read and write, and she has learnt many of their traditional jobs.

Filled with wonderful characters and incredible warmth, this is a fascinating story of a society very different from our own. Even now Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. The author has provided a timeline of Cuban history and more details in an afterword. This heart-warming novel will suit readers aged 9 to 12 interested in learning about different cultures.


Angela Crocombe is the shop mananger at Readings Kids.

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