I do not remember not reading and an author that sticks out as a reason for that is Katherine Paterson. Her book, The Master Puppeteer was a favorite. Eighteenth century Osaka and the world of puppeteers comes to life on its pages. As an adult, books like Bread and Roses, Too; The Same Stuff as Stars and The Flint Heart made it into my readings. And, while I had seen it before a few days ago, My Brigadista Year finally found its way too.
Lora, a young and slightly pampered girl of Havana is called by Castro’s national literacy campaign to go into the mountains and teach the farmers there to read and write. Perhaps, the goal of slightly less than a year to teach everyone in the country to read was idealistic, but of course, they can do it in the 180 pages Paterson gives us. And does she give us something. While she does not hide the more mature facts (there is the death of an uncle in a battle to oust Batista, the masculine based world, the rebels of the jungle killing these teachers, the prejudices of “rich” vs “poor” Cubans and the prejudices of “light skinned” vs. “dark skin” girls in particular, but boys, too) she does it in a way that is accessible to everyone. A very strong 8 or 9-year-old could read this, or have it read to them, but it is aimed at ages 10 to 13.
One of the reasons it is aimed at this age is the people Castro called were the students not much older than the readers Paterson is trying to reach. Some of these teachers were as young as seven and most under 20. Lora is just 13. Based on the events of 1961, Paterson opens a world to us that we might take for granted: education. She also shows us the other side of the Cuban revolution that brought Castro to power. Perhaps this is the best part. We know what people suffered under Castro’s rule, but what did people gain? What did the people who supported him think? Why did they want what Castro was giving? The Author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history at the end help tie everything together.
The images are taken from online. I was unable to find images of the males that served, too. And yes, they considered themselves an army “with books and pencils’ as Lora’s grandmother mentions.