Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the free review copy of his book – all opinions are my own.
I have found that I really enjoy reading middle-grade historical fiction. They are an amazing way to learn about periods in history from a completely different perspective. Of course, I realize that you have to take the information with a grain of salt, but they encourage readers to ponder aspects of history and potentially do additional research themselves.
Recently I was given the opportunity to review My Brigadista Year, by Katherine Paterson, thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange. This book tells of an “army” of volunteer teachers who were called upon to end illiteracy in Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro came to power. The book itself takes place between March and December of 1961 as we follow young Lora on a life-changing journey.
Lora is a thirteen year old girl inspired by the posters put up at her school that called for young men and women to join an army of teachers. She has never been outside of Havana and her family doesn’t want her to participate, but she is determined.
The earliest chapters of this book try to give the background of post-revolutionary Cuba which is necessary since many middle grade readers know little to nothing of Cuban history. These chapters have a completely different tone from the later chapters which are written in memoir style and are much more accessible. Once Lora begins her journey into the mountains to teach people to read, the tone shifts completely.
This is not only a historical fiction book, but it is a coming of age story and a tale of how we need to open ourselves to experiences of learning on all fronts. One of the points that the book was making is that many of the brigadistas, like Lora, were from privileged families in Havana that had never been outside the city and had no concept of rural life. Not only were they expected to teach grown-ups and children to read, they were expected to work on the farms of the people they were living with as a trade for their hospitality. They met with resistance and had to find ways to soldier on anyway.
As this book progressed, I found myself more and more amazed by the story and the fact that it was based on true events. When we come together to help our neighbors and countrymen, we can accomplish miraculous things. This is a great book to show young readers that there is power in the things that they do, that they can make a difference, no matter their age.
On some levels, I think that this might be a hard sell to get readers, but I believe that once they read it, they will get a ton out of it.