Secret of the by Andes by Ann Nolan Clark is a read-aloud that I chose to accompany our history studies. We are very loosely following Sonlight Core D, but I replaced the first history read-aloud with this selection. (It’s not a good sign that I made a substitution in the first week of school. ) Secret of the Andes is a notable book, besting Charlotte’s Web, among others, for the 1953 Newbery Medal. While it has obviously not have the enduring popularity of Charlotte, it is a good story and well worth the time it takes to read this short novel.
Secret of the Andes is the story of Cusi, a young shepherd boy who lives high in the Andes with the elderly Chuto and his herd of very special llamas. Cusi is very happy with his home and his job, though there is a longing in his heart for a family. His past, and even his relationship to Chuto, are mysteries. However, through a series of events that slowly increase both Cusi’s responsibilities and his awareness of his heritage and birthright as an Inca, Cusi comes of age and has to make the difficult decision of whether to stay in the mountains or go down the mountain to live with a family in the midst of “civilization.”
This is a subtle, gentle, and character-driven story. Cusi’s real identity is hinted at but never overtly revealed. This excerpt is very representative of the sort of quiet thoughtfulness that pervades this book:
Cusi sensed that the Sunrise Call was being spoken deep in the heart of the man beside him. The boy did as the man was doing. He folded his arms beneath his poncho. He stood silent and relaxed and turned his eyes to the dawning day. Within his heart the Sunrise Call came whispering, came soaring on the wings of feeling, lifting heavenward without the need of sound. (89)
However, the fact that this is a quiet story does not mean that it is devoid of excitement. Chuto’s and Cusi’s travels over the mountain paths are beautifully described. Life in the Andes can be dangerous, and this is not glossed over. Obviously, much of the story has to do with the Incas’ worship of the sun, which definitely opens a door for discussion about religious beliefs, etc. This is an excellent choice for a read-aloud for all of these reasons, and perhaps most notably, because the chapters are short. We all enjoyed this short novel and give it a Highly Recommended. (Puffin, 1952)