Just Imagine

My Brigadista Year

Authored by Katherine Paterson
Published by Walker Books

I must admit I was very excited when I received this book to review, since Paterson’s well-known story Bridge To Terebithia is a true classic and loved in this household. However, this book is nothing like that one yet I wasn’t disappointed.

My Brigadista Year is written in the voice of a young Cuban girl, Lora, and the reader learns all about the year Lora, aged 13, volunteered to teach reading to rural Cubans as part of a national campaign to eradicate illiteracy. The final 20 pages of the book give lots of background information about Cuban history as well as Katherine Paterson’s motivations for writing the story.

I learnt a lot about the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961 while reading both the story and the background notes, which were fascinating. However, foremost this is an engaging story about a young girl asserting her independence at a time of change and following through with her convictions. A strong message to share with young girls especially.

The details about life in rural Cuba are interesting and the reader is very aware of the aspirations of Cubans after liberation. Yet Paterson does not shy away from negative consequences of some of Fidel Castro’s actions.

The strong message of transforming a country through education, volunteering and allowing everyone to play their part is reason enough to use this as a guided reading text in KS2. The language is not too demanding for even some 8 year old children and the reasonable length of the text means momentum could be maintained and discussions around learning to read would be interesting. Despite what might seem a dry topic, the humour and charm of Lora’s voice throughout the retelling of events will appeal to younger readers.