The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba

4.4 9
by Margarita Engle
     
 

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The freedom to roam is something that women and girls in Cuba do not have. Yet when Fredrika Bremer visits from Sweden in 1851 to learn about the people of this magical island, she is accompanied by Cecilia, a young slave who longs for her lost home in Africa. Soon Elena, the wealthy daughter of the house, sneaks out to join them. As the three women explore the

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Overview

The freedom to roam is something that women and girls in Cuba do not have. Yet when Fredrika Bremer visits from Sweden in 1851 to learn about the people of this magical island, she is accompanied by Cecilia, a young slave who longs for her lost home in Africa. Soon Elena, the wealthy daughter of the house, sneaks out to join them. As the three women explore the lush countryside, they form a bond that breaks the barriers of language and culture.

In this quietly powerful new book, award-winning poet Margarita Engle paints a portrait of early women's rights pioneer Fredrika Bremer and the journey to Cuba that transformed her life.

The Firefly Letters is a 2011 Pura Belpre Honor Book for Narrative and a 2011 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Engle spins her latest historical novel-in-verse from the actual diaries of a 19th-century suffragette, Fredrika Bremer, who jettisoned her privileged existence in Sweden to travel and take notes on the plight of the poor. In 1851 Cuba, Bremer was assisted by another real-life figure, Cecilia, a pregnant African slave assigned as her translator by Bremer's host, a sugar baron. A third character is invented—Elena, the merchant's 12-year-old daughter who, through her interaction with Fredrika and Cecilia, grows aware of systemic injustice and her power to do something about it. As in her other novels, Engle (The Surrender Tree) writes in free verse, alternating among the characters' perspectives. Cecilia's story is the most poignant: Her father gave her to kidnappers in exchange for a stolen cow, and her unborn child also faces becoming a slave. But it's Elena who gives the plot momentum with a bold and risky choice that signals her own transformation. This slim, elegant volume opens the door to discussions of slavery, women's rights, and the economic disparity between rich and poor. Ages 10-up. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

“Like the firefly light, Engle's poetry is a gossamer thread of subtle beauty weaving together three memorable characters who together find hope and courage. Another fine volume by a master of the novel in verse.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“This slim, elegant volume opens the door to discussions of slavery, women's rights, and the economic disparity between rich and poor.” —Publishers Weekly

“Through this moving combination of historical viewpoints, Engle creates dramatic tension among the characters, especially in the story of Elena, who makes a surprising sacrifice.” —Booklist

“This engaging title documents 50-year-old Swedish suffragette and novelist Fredrika Bremer's three-month travels around Cuba in 1851. …The easily digestible, poetic narrative makes this a perfect choice for reluctant readers, students of the women's movement, those interested in Cuba, and teens with biography assignments.” —School Library Journal

“The author has a gift for imbuing seemingly effortless text with powerful emotions. . . .This uncommon story will resonate when placed in the hands of the right reader.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“The imagistic, multiple first-person narrative works handily in revealing Bremer, an alert and intelligent woman in rebellion against her background of privilege.” —The Horn Book

School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—This engaging title documents 50-year-old Swedish suffragette and novelist Fredrika Bremer's three-month travels around Cuba in 1851. Based in the home of a wealthy sugar planter, Bremer journeys around the country with her host's teenaged slave Cecilia, who longs for her mother and home in the Congo. Elena, the planter's privileged 12-year-old daughter, begins to accompany them on their trips into the countryside. Both Elena and Cecilia are inspired by their guest's independence, Elena to wonder if she can avoid eventual marriage and Cecilia to dream of freedom for her unborn child. Using elegant free verse and alternating among each character's point of view, Engle offers powerful glimpses into Cuban life at that time. Along the way, she comments on slavery, the rights of women, and the stark contrast between Cuba's rich and poor. The author takes some license with the real Bremer's journey; Elena is fictional, which the author is careful to point out in her author's note. She also includes a reference list for readers who want to learn more about Bremer. The easily digestible, poetic narrative makes this a perfect choice for reluctant readers, students of the women's movement, those interested in Cuba, and teens with biography assignments.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD
Kirkus Reviews
Three women, their lives circumscribed by their societies' expectations, come together in Cuba in 1851. Fredrika Bremer, an advocate for women's rights, escapes her confining upper-class life in Sweden by traveling the world. Cecilia, an enslaved teenager longing for her African home, lives with the knowledge that her father exchanged her for a stolen cow. And 12-year-old Cubana Elena feels trapped in her wealthy existence, she and her mother moving "like shadows / lost in their private world / of silk and lace." The free-verse novel effectively alternates the voices of the three protagonists (with a fourth voice for Beni, Cecilia's husband) and demonstrates how each character affects the others, all learning a measure of freedom in their roaming the island, Fredrika always recording her observations in letters and diaries by the light of Cuban fireflies resting on her fingers. And like the firefly light, Engle's poetry is a gossamer thread of subtle beauty weaving together three memorable characters who together find hope and courage. Another fine volume by a master of the novel in verse. (historical note, author's note) (Historical fiction. 10 & up)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805090826
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
03/16/2010
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
737,716
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile:
NC1230L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Matanzas, Cuba

CECILIAI

I remember a wide river

and gray parrots with patches of red feathers

flashing across the African sky

like traveling stars

or Cuban fireflies.

In the silence of night

I still hear my mother wailing,

and I see my father’s eyes

refusing to meet mine.

I was eight, plenty old enough

to understand that my father was haggling

with a wandering slave trader,

agreeing to exchange me

for a stolen cow.

Spanish sea captains and Arab merchants

are not the only men

who think of girls

as livestock.

Excerpted from The Firefly Letters by .

Copyright © 2010 by Margarita Engle.

Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author


Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.

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The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok this book is really bad im not reading it ever again
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She nodded and padded off.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well Im moving to the new territory. And guess what? I found the fresh-kill pile! Its a pile of fresh-kil free for the taking. Well any way.. see you there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why?.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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