Over the past several weeks, we have discussed how civil rights impact all people. This week, we would like to turn to a book written by Margarita Engle that puts a different spin on the idea of civil rights. All minority groups have had to fight for their rights, and this includes women. It is also important to note that the fight for civil rights is not specific to the United States. Nearly all countries in Latin America have seen similar movements by minority groups–and these struggles are not necessarily recent. This is evident in Engle’s The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba, a book discussing the women’s rights movement in Cuba in the 19th century.
This book, written in prose, is most suitable for middle grade readers. It tells the story of Fredrika Bremer, a real life suffragette, from Swedish. Engle chronicles Bremer’s real life trip to Cuba in 1851 in this historical fiction. Elena, the daughter of Bremer’s wealthy host family, and Cecelia, a slave, join Bremer in her journey through the Cuban countryside. Engle chronicles the journey of these women and their personal development throughout the book. The Firefly Letters is a 2011 Pura Belpre Honor Book for Narrative.
Why should we utilize this book in the classroom? While Elena is a fictional character, Bremer really did embark upon this journey through the Cuban countryside with a slave woman. This was chronicled in Bremer’s journals from the time. A book such as this one opens discussion on intersectionality. Being a woman meant different things to Cecelia and Bremer because of race. Another good talking point from this book is the notion that activists can and do unite to reach a common goal. In fact, the women’s rights movement grew because some of the most prominent white female abolitionists were denied entrance as participants to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. This book not only gives us room to discuss the women’s rights movement in a historical context, but it also allows us to discuss how civil rights movements, historically and presently, have been composed of people from a variety of interests.
I hope you will check out The Firefly Letters! We have previously highlighted Margarita Engle on our blog, so if you’re interested, by all means read more about her. Next month’s featured book is Engle’s The Lightning Dreamer. Hopefully, you will join us in reading this exciting book as well.
Until next time,