05 September 2010

Secret of the Andes

Winner of the 1953 Newbery Medal, Secret of the Andes follows a modern (for the 1950s) Inca boy as he matures in a secluded valley of the Andes.  Cusi has lived with the old llama herder Chuto for as long as he can remember...but Chuto is not his father.  Cusi has been raised with traditional Incan instruction and has learned traditional Incan crafts such as spinning, weaving, and, of course, breeding llamas.  However, Cusi is starting to grow-up and the time comes for him to leave the valley and seek his family.

Compared to my previous Newbery book, The Matchlock GunSecret of the Andes is very much centered on the richness of native cultures.  Chuto and Cusi greet the sun daily, Cusi is instructed in Incan traditions, and the Spanish conquerors are most definitely not well thought-of - there is a song/rhyme that recounts the death of the last Incan king at the hands of the Spanish.  Cusi's handicrafts and daily chores are also detailed; he is proud of his ability to make strong rope, spin good-quality yarn, and raise pure-bred llamas.  There was just a little weirdness when the narrator referred to "pan pipes" and some of the constellations/celestial bodies were referenced by Greco-Roman names like Venus; I'm thinking that Incas who are very firmly committed to retaining their own traditions would have their own names for the planets and reed pipes, even those Incans who are fictional characters in children's literature.

Newbery vocabulary (mostly cultural):

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