My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  When 13-year-old Lora announces that she wants to leave school for a year to become part of the volunteer army teaching literacy in Castro’s new Cuba, her parents are completely opposed.  However, her abuela speaks up in her favor, and ultimately Lora is allowed to go.  The young people who go with her are under constant threat from rebels hiding in the mountains who want to see the program fail.  Lora almost decides to quit and go home a few times, but her host family and the new friends around her keep her resolve strong, and eventually all her students are reading.  At the end of the year she returns home, but her life has been changed forever.  An epilogue tells readers what happened to Lora and the people she taught; a lengthy author’s note tells more about the history of Cuba, the brigadistas, and the success of the literacy program.  160 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Readers will be inspired to learn how one person can make a difference–and one who is close to their own age, no less.  It was interesting to read about Castro’s rise to power and his ideals for Cuba from the point of view of Cubans.

Cons:  The story starts off a bit slow, with the pace picking up when Lora is on her way with the brigadistas.

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