Friday, September 15, 2017

MG Historical Fiction Review: My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

34427289My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Format:  ARC Paperback

Number of Pages: 196 
Publishing:  October 10th 2017
SourceIn exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the publisher.
Why I wanted to read this:  A historical-fiction novel from the author of Bridge to Terabithia.  

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.     

1 comment:

  1. This sounds fascinating. Definitely not something I know very much about. I enjoy HF and look forward to picking this one up. :)