Why Reading Aloud Made Cuban Cigars Great

While reading aloud is my passion and what I do- because it makes a marked difference in learning- I always write about reading aloud to children.

Well, there’s more.  Adults.  The proof of reading aloud making a difference is in the high quality of Cuban cigars.  It’s a great story, one of my favorites.

Reading aloud never gets old.  It weathers time and generations.  For adults, when we are read to, we listen, think and feel.  And, we have to stretch our brain.  When we only hear the words it sharpens our mind, and our performance is much better.

The Cuban cigar industry understood this.  That’s why they make the finest cigars.

La Lectura 04521u.web_

They have la lectura, who reads aloud for up to four hours to the factory workers, from the daily news to Shakespeare to current books.  This is both brilliant and common sense; the workers are entertained, happy and productive.

Jim Trelease writes about this in his million-copy bestseller book, The Read-Aloud Handbook.  He is a master writer and has it nailed on reading aloud.  Here is an excerpt from the chapter about the history of reading aloud and its proof:

Then there is the history of the reader-aloud in the labor force.  When the cigar industry blossomed in the mid-1800’s, supposedly the best tobacco came from Cuba (although much of the industry later moved to Tampa, Florida area).  These cigars were hand-rolled by workers who became artisans in the delicate craft, producing hundreds of perfectly rolled specimens daily.  Artistic as it may have been, it was still repetitious labor done in stifling factories.  To break the monotony, workers hit upon the idea of having someone read aloud to them while they worked, known in the trade as ‘la lectura’.

The reader usually sat on an elevated platform or podium in the middle of the room and read aloud for four hours, covering newspapers, classics, and even Shakespeare.

As labor became more organized in the United States, the readings kept workers informed of progressive ideas throughout the world  as well as entertained.  When factory owners realized the enlightening impact of the readings, they tried to stop them but met stiff resistance from the workers, each of whom was paying the readers as much as twenty-five cents per week out of pocket.

The daily readings added to the workers’ intellect and general awareness while civilizing the atmosphere of the workplace.  By the 1930’s, however, with cigar sales slumping due to the Great Depression and unions growing restive with mechanization on the horizon, the owners declared that the reader-aloud had to go.  Protest strikes followed but to no avail, and eventually readers were replaced by radio.  But not in Cuba.

The Cuban novelist Miguel Barnet reports, “Today, all over Cuba, this tradition is alive and well.  Readers are in all the factories, from Santiago to Havana to Pinar del Rio.  The readings have specific timetables and generally begin with the headlines of the day’s newspapers.  After reading the newspaper, the readers take a break and then begin reading the unfinished book from the day before.  Most are women.”

Used by permission of the author, Jim Trelease, 2013, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin)

No wonder Cuban cigars are among the finest.  This story is one of my favorites and illustrates the effect reading aloud has on people.  Thank goodness I get to do this multiple times every day with children.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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82 Responses to Why Reading Aloud Made Cuban Cigars Great

  1. beetleypete says:

    Until this week, I knew nothing about the readers in cigar factories.. Now I have had the pleasure of reading two delightful posts (yours and Frank’s) on the subject.
    Thanks, Jennie. It has been of great interest to me.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Pete. It really is interesting. When I saw the photo on Frank’s post About Tampa, I knew right away who the man was. I often imagine the factory workers listening to everything from the news to Shakespeare. So, if all factories employed a lector, the output would be off the charts, like a Cuban cigar. A no-brainer.

  2. John Kraft says:

    What a marvelous story. I had never heard about it before.

    Thank you.


    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, John. It’s fascinating to imagine a lector reading everything from the news to Shakespeare. So, why doesn’t every factory have a lector today? The results would be Cuban cigar quality.

  3. EditingAdvantage says:

    Great post!

  4. I loved reading this!! Thank you.

  5. This was so interesting, Jennie. I love listening to audio books but now while I work as my work is to focused for me to listen properly. I am lucky as I still get to read to Michael every night.

  6. Opher says:

    Everybody homes in on reading aloud. It seems to home in on those times when the village gathered round the campfire and shared their tales.

  7. srbottch says:

    Jennie, I loved this and will forward it to a couple of good friends who are cigar aficionados. Questions, first: are you a cigar smoker (I bet not); and, did the Progressives read Atlas Shrugged (I bet not, of course it hadn’t been written then, but if it had…) 😉


    • Jennie says:

      No, and no. 🙂 I’ll bet your cigar buddies will enjoy the story. The Read-Aloud Handbook mixes facts and reasoning as to why reading aloud is so important, with stories like the Cuban cigars. I’ll post another one soon. BTW, how are you doing with writing your stories of the children you see each day?

      • srbottch says:

        I must be having a block. I can’t seem to finish a story I started and I’m falling behind on other plans. My excuse? Workers in our house sanding a hardwood floor and laying a new one. Can’t anyone do it right the first time? Yikes! But I’ll get to it. You’re like a reminder sitting on my shoulder getting after me to get busy. I live it. Yesterday was a cold morning and I asked the kids if they had their ‘long Johns ‘ on and got blank looks. But one kid said, ‘oh, yeah, my mother wears them, too’. So funny. Have a great weekend.

      • Jennie says:

        See, that long johns comment could be a great story. Today I watched children on the playground playing dead. That will be a terrific blog post. It’s the little things that really are the big things, Steve. They make the best stories because they’re real and everyday, what people feel and understand. Although if I had floor sanders in my house, any thoughts of writing would be gone, too.

  8. Dan Antion says:

    Great post. Educated workers make better employees, Employers really had nothing to fear.

  9. Oh – wow –
    I would love to be the designated reader employee in any factory/business/retail inventory/shop/etc.
    What a career track – this could still work in our ‘advanced’ society, I’m convinced…

  10. John Fioravanti says:

    Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Jennie Fitzkee provides us with a fascinating theory that explains the high quality of Cuban cigars. I didn’t know this! Please share!

  11. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is another wonderful post by Jennie about the importance of reading aloud.

  12. Of course! It makes perfect sense.

  13. That is SO Cool! I love the idea of having a “reader” entertaining (and educating) workers. I know that when I listen to books while driving, an 8-hour drive feels like 3. I bet it’s the same with the workday. And clearly, a well-read workforce can change the world.

    • Jennie says:

      I’m glad you liked this as much as I did! Can you imagine the workforce today if this practice was widespread? Quality would soar and workers would be introduced to new worlds and ideas. I like how the reading in the cigar factory includes a wide variety. Thank you, my friend. 😍

  14. Darlene says:

    A wonderful story. I love being read to but it doesn’t happen often. My last employment before retiring was in the employment programs of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). An amazing employer. At one Christmas party, our director read to us from Stuart McLean’s The Vinyl Cafe. It was the best Christmas party ever!

  15. Doris says:

    I have never heard of this. It’s fascinating. Thank you!!!

  16. Jennie, I agree completely. Your take on this is delightful. I had not heard this about the Cuban cigars. What a cool work policy. I think my agency tries to do similar. They capture us in meetings that go on for hours with them reading to us from their PowerPoint slides, telling us how wonderful, successful, and brilliant they are. LOL. 😀
    Terrific post, Jennie. Hugs!

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks so much, Teagan. How interesting that your agency does a similar reading. Without the PowerPoint would even be better. Cool work policy, indeed. Now, imagine if that policy was in place in all the factories. The output and quality would be off the charts. Well, Cuban cigars have already proven that.

  17. reocochran says:

    I believe in storytelling for many ages. . . I think that the point (and success) of books on tapes emphasizes we all wish to feed our minds with words of magic, Jennie. 💽📖

  18. I loved that you shared this story Jennie.. and did not know this about cuban cigars.. And I love to read outloud bedtime stories on sleep overs when our granddaughter visits.. 😀

  19. I totally agree with reading aloud to adults! You know it is interesting what I have also noticed, how much adults enjoy it. On the days that I substitute in the library, I have a story time where I read to the students before they go back to class. The teachers and teacher’s assistants always pull up a chair and sit with the kids to hear the story, they rarely venture off to do other tasks. They enjoy it as much as the kids! Loved this post 😀

    • Jennie says:

      Yes!!! That always happens with adults, too. It’s wonderful. When I read aloud at the library, if there is an adult within earshot, they are equally captivated. Imagine if factories and workplaces had a la lectura, or reading aloud. The quality would be outstanding – like Cuban cigars. Thanks so much! 😀

  20. This would be great to have in today’s big factories or anywhere where the task doesn’t take too much focus and the machines don’t make too much noise. Everyone listening and perhaps later discussing the same readings rather than all plugged into different channels—brilliant!

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! It is brilliant (thus the quality of Cuban cigars) and would be a tremendous addition to factories everywhere. Quality would be sky high, and employees would be engaged in reading. Win-win.

  21. mitchteemley says:

    So, I skipped ahead and read your last sentence, “Thank goodness I get to do this multiple times every day with children.” You roll cigars with children? That just seems wrong, Jennie. ;>) (Delightful post, btw.)

    • Jennie says:

      No, thank goodness I get to be a ‘la lectura’ and read aloud to children multiple times every day. Thanks, Mitch. Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  22. Fantastic! I would never have known such a lovely thing existed. Thanks for sharing your brilliant story, Jennie.

  23. Pingback: A Reblog: “Why Reading Aloud Made Cuban Cigars Great” | Down the Hall on Your Left

  24. I never knew this! Well, probably most of us didn’t. I love this info. I tell my creative writing students constantly about the importance of reading their work out loud. I’m going to share this post with them. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! I’m so glad you have them read their work aloud to the class. Makes a big difference. Thank you for sharing the post with them. It is incredibly fascinating. Actually, the book it’s featured in has more such stories. I will post them soon. 🙂

  25. dgkaye says:

    This was just so interesting Jennie. I’d never heard of this cigar reading. 🙂

  26. ren says:

    That is intriguing! …some of the best kept secrets. Thanx for bringing awareness to this, Jennie. Loved your sharing.

  27. Pingback: Bookish Meet and Greet – Usborne Books and More With Niki

  28. Lara/Trace says:

    Nothing to add with all the great comments (with big applause!)

  29. (kris)tinaboucher says:

    I love reading aloud – even if it’s just to myself. I really think it helps you retain what is read. Anyway – this is a great idea, I wish someone would read to me at work!!

  30. Pingback: Why Reading Aloud Made Cuban Cigars Great – Diane P. Proctor

  31. Lovely. I want a Cuban now 😁

  32. Annika Perry says:

    Got here, Jennie! 😀 I was so intrigued about the title with Cuban cigars and what on earth that had to do with literature! This is fascinating and what a great idea to enrich the lives of the workers through these four-hour daily readings. Radio is just not the same and glad Cuba retains the tradition and long may it do so! It is a blessing to be able to read aloud to others and you give so much in your classes.

    • Jennie says:

      Hooray! I felt the same way when I first read this. Doesn’t it make perfect sense, that ‘la lectura’, reading aloud, could change how the the workers performed? Yes, radio is not the same. In today’s world, children listening to stories on tablets is not the same either. I feel so blessed to read aloud every day to children!

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