In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.
When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Lora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, War, Violence, Racism, Murder, Torture
Booklist (October 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. Fidel Castro’s rise to power elicited many different reactions from Cubans—see, for example, Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s The Red Umbrella (2010). Paterson’s latest focuses on how Castro implemented a successful national literacy campaign. Havana resident Lora, an amazing reader, volunteers to be a teacher in the mountains of Cuba for one year. Lora has never been away from home before, and must leave behind all her city comforts to embark on a journey that will change her life. Readers interested in Cuba will find a wealth of information here; both a time line and political background are supplied between pages. While Lora’s adventure is based on a true story, the weakness of the novel lies in the presentation of danger: the looming threat that Lora could be killed by the enemy at any time does not quite resonate. Readers will find that the strength of the book lies not in Lora’s adventures but in the critical question she asks: Which country is truly perfect? A fascinating, possibly controversial portrayal of a turbulent time in history.
Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
It is 1961 in Havana, Cuba. Despite her parents’ misgivings, thirteen-year-old Lora becomes a member of the Conrado Benítez Brigade. She, along with thousands of other young brigadistas, travels hours away to live with poor mountain farmers and become teachers in order to fulfill Fidel Castro’s vow that the country become one hundred percent literate in one year. In this idealistic and informative coming-of-age novel, readers experience alongside Lora her triumphs and challenges as she exchanges her sheltered city life for the experience of living on a farm and seeing how learning to read and write changes lives. Lora comes across as a distinct, individual character, but through her readers also learn many details about the brigadistas: how they were expected to work in the fields alongside their host families and help out as much as possible in the home; the dangers they faced due to “counterrevolutionaries,” including threats that they “would come and kill all the literacy teachers in the area.” Though all the brigadistas were young, none faltered in his or her duty to educate rural campesinos for the cause. Paterson also brings in Cuban politics, covering Castro’s rise to power as well as reasons why many Cubans resented America’s interference in their country. Lora’s story helps readers see the Cuban people’s resilience and fortitude in the face of extreme hardship. Though Castro’s literacy campaign happened fifty-six years ago, Cuba has still maintained one of the world’s highest literacy rates. Appended with an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history. alma ramos-mcdermott
About the Author
Katherine Paterson is the internationally acclaimed author of over 35 books for children and young adults.
She has twice won both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award. She received the 1998 Hans Christian Andersen Medal as well as the 2006 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for the body of her work, and was the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature for the Library of Congress.
Two of her best-selling books have been made into feature films – “The Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Great Gilly Hopkins”. An active promoter of reading, education and literacy, she lives in Barre, Vermont. She has four children and seven grandchildren, and her beloved dog, Pixie.
Her website is www.terabithia.com
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