Open Wide the World


Open Wide the World through Books: February 2018 edition

We're spending 2018 reading books aloud as a family that inspire us to learn about the world. And we're following that inspiration wherever it leads: a nearby restaurant, a new language course... the possibilities are endless!

Read about the genesis of this series here. Or jump right in with this month's "Open Wide the World through Books!"

In this series, we share family-friendly books on travels, cultures, anthropology, world history, and related. Come see what we're reading in February, and give us your suggestions, too!

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My Brigadista Year

Katherine Paterson, 2017

This book takes place in Cuba in the early 1960s.

The publisher says:

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.

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.

We say:

Julie: I never realized how little I knew about the lives of Cubans in the 1960s. Seeing history unfold through the eyes of a teenager in My Brigadista Year was such an eye-opener. And completely engaging; I could have read this in one sitting! 

Homer: Reading My Brigadista Year felt like we were right there with the people of Cuba, experiencing life before Fidel Castro and in the early transition years. Plus, we learned about a movement (the literacy movement) I hadn't known about before.

Mag (age 10): It was a sad story, but uplifting. It was very well told. It taught me what life was like in Cuba. I'm glad we read it.


Our family's rating (on a scale of 1-10): 7

The first two-thirds of the book were completely engrossing, and would have earned a 9 or 10.

Somehow, the last few chapters started to fall a little flat, so our final rating, after much discussion, is a 7.


Cuban Restaurant Visit: Cubanitas

The book was about Cuba. And about the strength of a girl. And about people coming together. Everything that Cubanitas, a Cuban restaurant in Milwaukee, is about.

Cubanitas was started by a Cuban immigrant (Marta Bianchini emigrated from Cuba as a baby) who was inspired by the strength of women in Cuba, and offers her restaurant as a tribute to the Cuban women (the "Cubanitas") in her family. A perfect follow-up to the book!

We loved Cubanitas':

  • empanadas: picadillo con queso, espinaca con queso, and pollo
  • croquettas de jamón
  • sandwich cubano
  • and of course, a mojito


Cubanitas, a Cuban restaurant in Milwaukee, pays tribute to the strength of the women of Cuba. And of course, serves fabulous food!

Cubanitas, a Cuban restaurant in Milwaukee, pays tribute to the strength of the women of Cuba. And of course, serves fabulous food!

Have you read any great cultural or historical books as a family?

Give us your suggestions in the comments below!