Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- My Brigadista Year

34427289Paterson, Katherine. My Brigadista Year
October 10th 2017 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This is the #ownvoices reply I needed in regards to this book. Engle is very circumspect, but even I could tell that this story was much too complicated for a non native writer to even attempt. Not that Paterson didn't do her research-- it just isn't possible to really cover the complexity of this time we'll in a middle grade novel.

Lora's family is poor, but has a decent life in Havana in the late 1950s. Lora wants desperately to go to a better school, but her parents don't have money to send her. Her abuela, who is very forward thinking, offers Lora jewelry that she was saving for her and says she may sell it and use the money for school. Lora does. When she is 13, Lora decides to join the Literacy Brigadistas, which was an idea of Fidel Castro's to raise the literacy rate and help the poorer, less educated people understand concepts in his new government. The Brigadistas, who were often very young and female, were given brief training on how to teach reading and then sent out into remote areas of the country to live and work with families while teaching them to read. They were given hammocks, since the families wouldn't have extra beds, lanterns so that people could learn after their day of working on the farm, and instruction in basic agricultural practice so that they could help on the farms. Lora ends up living with Luis and Veronica, who have three small children, and is also in charge of educating the nearby family. While the women were pleased to learn to read, the men often did not want to learn from young girls. Lora enjoys being with the family and learning of their hardships, but the atmosphere in Cuba is very tense, and the brigadistas are fearful that the resistance will attack them. After making sure that her students all pass their exams, Lora returns to her family, and the experience has a profound effect on her life.
Strengths: I've had several students with Cuban backgrounds who are very interested in reading stories like The Red Umbrella or 90 Miles to Havana. I had never heard of this initiative, and found it interesting that even with a higher literacy rate than other countries, Cuba thought that this was important enough to pursue, and that the country's literacy rate went up from 60% to 96%. The book concentrated more on the positives of teaching people to read, and Lora learned things from the family as well. There are extensive notes in the back of the book about the research, as well as a helpful time line.
Weaknesses: My gut reaction is that some Cubans might not agree with this portrayal, but I just don't have the background in this area of the world to tell whether or not this is a reliable representative of the feelings of Cuban's at this time. I am going to read more reviews before I purchase, just to make sure. As I said, it seems that Paterson covered all of her bases, and Lora isn't at all condescending to her students, but I don't have the background to judge competently.
What I really think: I wish the cover incorporated some of the period photographs of brigadistas, so it would be very clear that this was a historical novel. Something about the illustration makes me think that this was published in the 1990s.

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