Friday, January 18, 2008

Ann Nolan Clark

Secret of the Andes
by Ann Nolan Clark
Recommended Age: 11+

As long as he can remember, Cusi has lived in the hidden valley with no one but the old man Chuto, a simpering dog, and a large herd of proud llamas. High in the Andes mountains of Peru, Cusi works hard tending the herd. He gets little to eat, sleeps out of doors, and has little to protect him from the cold of night apart from llama wool clothing and the chewing of coca leaves. Yet Cusi is descended from a great, proud nation – the Inca – whose civilization was destroyed by Spanish conquerors four hundred years ago.

There are many secrets that Cusi does not know as this story begins. He knows nothing of the outside world. He does not know who his parents are, or what it is like to have a family and to belong somewhere. He does not understand the cryptic words passed between Chuto and the minstrel who comes to visit them. But he begins to learn about the history and the traditions of his great people, which have not died – and which, Cusi himself will defiantly swear, WILL not die.

Cusi’s journey of discovery begins with a trek to the salt pits, a few days’ walk from the hidden valley. It continues with the arrival of a great teacher. But the most important part comes when Chuto sends him out of the valley, alone, to follow his heart wherever it will lead. Will Cusi find the family he has been looking for all his life? Will his search bring him in a circle? Or will his destiny have something to do with the future fate of the Inca people?

This is a tale full of haunting mystery, awe-inspiring natural beauty, and tenderness between man and beast, between man and child. It is full of exotic, sensory pleasures; ancient riddles and rituals; and a reverence toward the last surviving remnants of a once-great civilization. It is also, more or less, a fantasy – though not in the sword-and-sorcery sense, exactly. So it is not surprising that it is also a Newbery Medal book. It has it all – educational value in a page-turning story where you feel the heart of the main characters, and a final twist that will leave your spine tingling.

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