Lora is thirteen years old when her country of Cuba undergoes a major political change. Fidel Castro comes to power after he, along with other rebels, overthrow the dictator Batista. One of the first things Castro does is to create the Cuban Literacy Campaign. The goal is for the island of Cuba to be literate in one year.
Lora is fascinated with this idea, and after seeing posters at school looking for volunteers who can journey far from home, into the mountains to teach families to read and write, she begs her parents to let her go. They, however, are not as excited as she is. They know of the dangers and that there are still forces loyal to Batista out there, promising to hurt and maybe even kill the people going out to teach. Still, when Lora’s grandmother hears of her passion, she persuades Lora’s parents of the importance of this work.
Thus begins a year of discovery for Lora as she is tested beyond what she thinks she can endure. She has training to become a brigadista, and moves into the mountains to live and work with a family. She also has goals for each of the family members to get them to a specific point to read and write. Hanging over all the heads of the brigadistas’ is the constant threat of violence, to the families and to the teachers.
My Brigadista Year by Katherine Patterson looks at a little known event in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba became illiteracy- free in 1961 due to this push by the government to create an educated populace. It continues today to have close to 100% literacy.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.