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The Firefly Letters

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,338 ratings  ·  313 reviews
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 countr ...more
Hardcover, 151 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  1,338 ratings  ·  313 reviews

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Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, cuba, poetry
Wowy wow wow
This book was a gigantic step up from Hurricane Dancers!

Again told in verse but there was a huge difference in craft. Both books have earned tons of awards and medal but I felt it was really deserved for this book.

This book of verse tells the tale of Fredrika Bremer, a Swedish women who was Sweden's first women novelist and one of the earliest advocates of women's rights. In fact it was her work that pushed Sweden to give partial voting rights to its women as early at 1860!

Engle h
La Coccinelle
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second verse novel I've read by this author, the first being The Lightning Dreamer . Both are set in Cuba and are historical fiction based on the lives of real people. While I enjoyed both books, I didn't feel quite as much of an emotional reaction while I was reading The Firefly Letters. Perhaps due to its short length, it didn't draw me into the story as much, and I had a difficult time caring about any of the characters.

The story is told from four points of view: Fredrika (a Sw
Dec 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Hmm okaaaay.

I liked the idea of these 3 different women in different social classes still having their own issues with what freedom is.

A Swedish woman who is rebelling against the idea of what a woman of her standing in her country is supposed to be.

A wealthy Cuban daughter who feels like she will forever be stuck embroidering by her window, never getting to explore the world she was born "free" into.

A slave, 15, already married and pregnant.

I liked the idea of fireflies representing freedo
A poignant tale told in simple, yet enchanting verses. My appreciation also went up a notch when I discovered that Frederika really existed, and she had a hand in shaping the women liberation movement in the 19th century Sweden.

The story is about Frederika's visit to Cuba, which forever changed the lives of two young women she encountered there--one is a slave, the other the daughter of the slave's master. In a few words rich with imagery and symbolism, Margarita Engle successfully transported
Michelle Pegram
Feb 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Told from the perspectives of four different characters, this true story of a Dutch woman with the courage to defy the expectations of society, refuse marry, and travel to Cuba to see the new world, is especially magical because it is told in verse.

Frederika Bremer sought help from the Swedish Consulate in finding a place to stay for a visit to Cuba; she expected a rustic environment, but ended up being hosted in a manor home by a wealthy family. She wanted to experience the real Cuba, so she wa

Review in English |Reseña en Español

I feel like from all the books I’ve read lately, I am having mixed feelings all the time! This book is not the exception. The Firefly Letters is the story of Frederika Bremer, a Swedish writer and activist for the rights of women and of her stay at Matanzas, Cuba, in the late 19th century. I felt a bit disappointed because first, this is not a novel but rather a poetic narrative -in other words, this is written as a poem. Now, I hardly ever read poetry beca
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A member of my book club was so overwhelmed by the beauty of this book that she made a special trip to the library to lend me her copy. After reading the book, I can understand why. There are vignettes of Cuba and the lives of women in Cuba in this book that just took my breath away. I will certainly seek out books by this author.
Where does Margarita find all these fascinating people, and why don't we ever get more books about them? This is a really great story, and while I don't want to say I want the book to be any different from what it is, I do wish I could also have another book that were a bit less sparse but about the same stuff. ...more
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
A 2011 Pura Belpre Award honor book for author, and so deserving. The theme of freedom was woven into all aspects of this novel, repeated over and over. Frederika Bremer, the young Swedish woman, travels in order to be free from the strictures tying women down in her country in 1851. Elena, the young girl with whose wealthy family Frederika is staying, longs for the freedom to walk outside and go where she wants to, something denied to women in 19th-century Cuban society. Cecelia, the slave who ...more
Picked this up because of the cover -- so glad I did! Beautiful verse novel about the Swedish suffragette Frederika Bremer's three-month stay in Cuba in 1851. The poems' voices switch between Frederika, Elena (the daughter of the magistrate who is hosting Frederika), Cecilia (the young slave of the magistrate who translates for Frederika), and Beni (Cecilia's husband). I liked this book for its ability to show the beauty of Cuba alongside the ugliness of slavery, all in simple, image-heavy poems ...more
Jennifer Mangler
I've come to love books in verse, and Margarita Engle is one reason why. Her words are just so beautiful, and she manages to say so much in the short verses she writes. Each chapter is told through a different character's point of view, and the biggest quibble I have with this book is that I often had difficulty distinguishing which chapter was told through which character's perspective. There wasn't enough of a narrative difference for me to tell, so I had to really pay attention. Still, this i ...more
Mar 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2021
Such a beautifully worded book that conjures up so many vivid images in such few words.

Cuba 1851 , where slavery is rampant is the place Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer visits on her travels. During her 3 month stay on the island, she has a companion/ translator in the form of Cecelia who is a slave of the family hosting Frederika.
As Frederika travels around the island, she notes the disparities in the way girls are treated and points them out, urging action and giving hope to Cecelia as well.
Kim Becker (MIDDLE of the Book MARCH)
A short, beautiful middle-grade story, written in verse about the Swedish women's rights pioneer Fredrika Bremer. It is a description of her living in Cuba with the fictional daughter of her host, Elena, along with Cecilia - a young slave, taken from her home and her mother when she was 8 years old. Cecilia became Fredrika's interpreter and companion as she visited slaves, freed slaves, and poor Cuban people.

Engle thoughtfully writes about the status of women in 1800s Cuba, as well as the slave
Never in my life have I heard about Swedish heiress Fredrika Bremer, who left the castle where she spent the first two decades of her life in order to write about the injustices being done to people elsewhere in the world. She traveled to Cuba, where she enlisted the help of Cecelia, a slave who could speak English, as well as the friendship of a young Cuban named Elena. The three women each feel trapped, albeit in very different ways, but together work to better their lives and the lives of tho ...more
Mar 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
The story follows Frederika, a Swedish advocate for women's right, Selena, a Cuban sheltered wealthy young lady and Cecilia, a slave during the stay of Frederika in Cuba. Each chapter follows different POVs between the three characters as Frederika wants to learn about Cuba & Cuban ways while Selena & Cecilia want to be free in their own definition of "freedom".

I love the short & concise storytelling in verse by Margarita Engle. I've lost count of the number of her books that I've read. One thi

Dec 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle is a historical fiction poetry book about three strong women. It’s based in Cuba around 1851. Fredrika Bremer visits Cuba to explore the culture. Among her is Cecilia, a slave that longs for freedom. Especially for her baby. Also, Elena comes along and is very wealthy. They treat each other equally and help get Cecilia and her soon to be newborn freedom. Elena also feels trapped because her whole future is planned out for her and she has barely any rights. ...more
Mar 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
A hopeful free verse book based on the real-life travels and work of Fredrika Bremer and her translator, Cecilia. We follow 3 different women: Swedish-born Fredrika, who is a women's rights advocate; African-born Cecilia (her specific country was not named), who is a pregnant, enslaved woman in Cuba; and Cuba-born Elena, the daughter of a rich family with traditional expectations. Each of these women provides a unique perspective and the desire for a better life for women. I didn't know much abo ...more
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautiful imagery and relatable emotions.

The resolution is somewhat disappointing in that with so much longing for freedom, so little is actually accomplished. That is not the fault of the author or any of her characters.

Perhaps the best metaphor is Fredrika buying the freedom of captured fireflies, but they eventually get tired and are captured again, and must once again be freed, or not have their freedom.
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2017
For such a "simple" book it sure packs a powerful message. I really enjoyed this book even though it ended at such a non-ending. But as Emily Dickinson wrote "hope is the thing with feathers," or perhaps in this case firefly wings. ...more
Katie Farmer
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Sadly, I felt such a disconnect from every character in this story and the ending felt wholly unsatisfying. It may also be that verse as a narrative form is just not for me. I wanted more detail and more depth and I'm not sure verse (at least in this case) lends itself to that. ...more
Hannah L
The Firefly Letters is a short poetry collection that puts Fredrika Bremer, a Swedish womens rights activist/writer, under the spotlight. The setting takes place in 19th century Cuba, where individual rights are unevenly dispersed based on gender, race, and wealth. With frequent changes of perspective, this beautiful selection expresses what it takes to be truly free and happy:)

I picked up this book quite randomly. The cover was interesting, and the reading level did not seem too complex. I deci
Apr 12, 2018 added it
This book is inspiring but also sad. These girls are located in Cuba and want freedom just just for themselves but for their own children.
This is such an inspiring book because sometimes when you have no hope the little things make you believe stronger and stronger each time. Although I'm not a fan of anything that has to do with slavery this book was soft in those parts in a away but has a way with words.
Jun 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
One thing that you can always count on author Margarita Engle for is the delicate grace of her poetic verse, invariably so smooth and dreamlike. How exceptional is it to find such a talented poet who also brings awareness to little-known corners of history through her novels, illuminating the lives of unsung historical heroes who might very well never have gained the notoriety they deserve without an author like Margarita Engle to tell their stories to the world?

In 1851, pioneering novelist Fr
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
In this verse novel, Swedish women's rights pioneer Fredrika Bremer travels to Cuba in the 1850s and changes the lives of those around here. There's Cecilia, whose own father sold her into slavery to this distant land. She's expecting her first child, knowing that he or she will never see her homeland because they will belong to someone for the rest of their lives just as she and her husband Beni do. There's also Elena, the daughter of Fredrika's wealthy host. Elena feels like a slave cooped up ...more
Kirah Marshall
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-summaries
1. This is a novel in verse that is told from the perspectives of four different individuals, Fredrika -a Swedish explorer, Elena -the rich young lady whose family houses Fredrika on her travels, Cecilia -a young slave girl who is a translator for the family, and Beni -the husband of Cecilia who is also a slave. At the beginning of this novel, Elena doesn't quite like Fredrika and Cecilia, but mostly because she is jealous that they get to roam around Cuba and be as "free" as they wish. Fredrika ...more
Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, z-fp-level-z
“Cuban fireflies are the most amazing little creatures I have ever seen. They flock to me at night, resting on my fingers so that, while I am sketching and writing letters, I need no other lantern, just the light from their movements.” Fredrika Bremer, 1851, Cuba
This quote from The Firefly Letters by Margaret Engle captures the essence of Fredrika Bremer’s experience in Cuba in 1851. Bremer, a suffragette, left her privileged life in Sweden to explore 19th Century Cuba. In this book, we learn no
L13F_Jana Wilkening
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is a 2011 Honorable Mention America’s Award winner. After this book was mentioned by Denise in Saturday’s class, I was excited to read it. This book is written in free verse from the point of view of three main speakers: Fredrika, a Swedish suffragette who has travelled to Cuba to write about her adventures there, Elena, the rich young daughter of the family Fredrika is staying with, and Cecilia, the pregnant slave girl who shows Fredrika around and interprets for her. While in Cuba, F ...more
Feb 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Through free verse poetry, author Margarita Engle creatively entwines the lives of three distinct women – Fredrika (a free-spirited Swedish suffragist), Cecilia (a teenage slave and translator from Congo), and Elena (the daughter of a wealthy slave owner). When Fredrika comes to live with Elena’s family in their Cuban mansion, her strength and drive for freedom and rights illuminates like fireflies, and spreads to Cecilia and Elena who each venture out on a hopeful search of freedom. The story i ...more
Oct 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is the recipient of the 2009 Americas Award. It is a historical fiction story written in free verse poetry. It is about three very different women who spend a Cuban summer together during the mid 1800's. The story is based on an actual woman, Fredrika Bremer, who was from Sweden. She was a world traveler and novelist and one of the earliest advocates for women's rights. Fictional characters include, Cecilia, a young African born Cuban slave, who is pregnant with her first child; and El ...more
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Review 6, Nataly Salgado 1 1 Apr 03, 2020 07:57PM  
Mrs. Gallagher's ...: Katya's Book in Verse Review 1 7 May 01, 2013 03:41PM  

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Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She lives with her husband in northern California.

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“There is no place more lonely
Than a rich man's home.”
“My mind soars
and whirls
in a dance
of wild fear
and graceful hope.”
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