My Brigadista Year

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Katherine Paterson. My Brigadista Year, Walker Books Australia, 1 Feb 2018, 208pp, $24.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9780763695088

My Brigadista Year is a book that makes a beautiful impression even before you open it.  The creative design elements, the bold illustration on the dust jacket and the discovery of the book’s exquisite hardcover hidden underneath, set the scene for what is indeed a remarkable story.

It is 1961 and Fidel Castro is the new revolutionary leader of Cuba.  There have been years of great turbulence and violence throughout the country and the threat of danger remains ever-present. So when Castro calls out for an army of volunteers to bring literacy to all of Cuba, and thirteen-year-old Lora is determined to join, her family are horrified.  Not to be dissuaded, Lora becomes one of 250,000 dedicated teachers and students – 100,000 of which were between ten and nineteen years old – to succeed in this remarkable initiative; all within 12 months.

Lora tells us the story; the dangers of her new life in a remote rural community and the joy she feels as she becomes accepted into the families she has come to teach.  But it isn’t only the villagers who will be learning.  Lora finds herself in very different physical circumstances to those she experienced at home in Havana – and she is a long way from her family.

It seems inaccurate to describe this book as a simple tale; its simplicity is in the language and the innocence of Lora’s voice as she tells us about this incredible chapter of history.  The story unfolds in a straightforward and unembellished way, never dominated by Lora’s ‘inner voice’, although we know her circumstances are difficult.  The story focuses on that which is important to Lora – the project to which Lora has made a commitment and the journey into which she invites us.

My Brigadista Year is a revolution in its own quiet way; it opens-up our minds to a significant part of history in a part of the world of which we hear little.  Of course, we understand the basis for our Anglo-focused learning and how wonderful it is that our children (and ourselves) can now explore the world beyond.

Katherine Paterson is the author of over thirty books and winner of numerous awards worldwide.  Her most well-known book, Bridge to Terabithia is a children’s classic.  Katherine Paterson continues to advocate on behalf of children’s literacy and was named a Living Legend in 2000 by the Library of Congress USA.

Reviewed by Jennifer Mors

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