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The Firefly Letters

A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


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.

From Publishers Weekly

Mar 15, 2010 – 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.

Customer Reviews

I met the author

When I met her, she was still writing the book. It is really good!

Good, but short

The book was good. I enjoyed it. It only took me about 10 minutes to read even though it was 210 pages. Everything is written in a poem form.

The Firefly Letters
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  • $2.99
  • Level: Grades 5-9
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Historical
  • Published: Mar 16, 2010
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Seller: Macmillan
  • Print Length: 160 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings