My Brigadista Year

Authored by Katherine Paterson
Published by Walker Books

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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 must admit I was very excited when I received this book to review since Katherine 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.

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 acutely aware of the aspirations of Cubans after liberation. Yet Paterson does not shy away from the 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 My Brigadista Year 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 book 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.