Winner of the Newbery Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature for 1953, Ann Nolan Clark pens a wonderful tale about the Incas and discovering your true path in this world.
We meet Chuto, an old Indian, and Cusi, a young Indian boy, who live high up in the Andes Mountains in a Secret Valley. They tend llamas and Cusi has a pet llama all his own that he names Misti.
A minstrel visits who notices Cusi’s golden earplugs in his ears. Cusi does not know what this means. He does not know who his real parents are. He does not know many things Chuto speaks of such as why he is called the Chosen One.
Chuto and Cusi take their annual journey to the Salt Pits to gather salt. It is the first time Cusi can remember leaving the valley. He sees many new sights and many new people. However, he does not get to meet the family he has been watching that lives below them in the valley. Cusi longs for a family all his own. The trip is brief and Cusi is glad to return home.
One day Amauta arrives to teach Cusi all he needs to know. Chuto tells Cusi, “Your acts obey only the course of your own mind’s whisper.” Amauta teaches Cusi all he knows and then he leaves and Cusi is left wondering what all this means.
One day he follows Misti to a hidden valley and finds a pair of golden slippers. Chuto tells Cusi this is the sign for him to leave to Cuzco and find his heart’s desire. He gives Cusi Misti and seven other llamas packed with wool to take on his journey.
Cusi is helped along the way by a hidden village of Inca. He meets a strange woman whom he gives 5 of his llamas to. Cusp’s journey continues as he searches for a family. He finds a family that takes him in but it doesn’t seem right. His heart is in the hidden valley with Chuto whom he loves. He is learning to follow his heart and seize the days that are awaiting him. He is learning that a family is Chuto and the llamas and sharing everything with one another.
Cusi learned to read his own heart and thereby find his heart’s desire. “Grieve not your searching circles,” an old man known as the Keeper of the Fields told Cusi. His desire was to return to his real home with Chuto and the llamas.
When Cusi returned, Chuto questioned him, asking him if this was his true desire to stay in the mountains. Cusi said yes and with those words made a blood vow to always breed the Inca llamas and care for them. Chuto showed Cusi a hidden passage full of gold dust, dust the Incas had brought the Spaniards to release their kind. Instead the king was killed and the Inca hid the gold and the llamas. Only two alive know where the gold is: Chuto and now Cusi. Cusi is the Chosen One, the one to guard the flock and the gold and to train the new chosen one when the time is come.
Cusi learns that he is the son of another Chosen One, one that Chuto had trained but who had run away because Chuto would never allow him to leave. His real father, Titu, sent Cusi in his place. Now, Cusi is free to travel the world as a proper Herdsman of the Inca’s llamas must be wise and well travelled. Chuto will stay for the animals. However, Cusi says not now for he is happy there. They salute the sun for a new beginning.
Most memorable quote: “Open your eyes. Open your heart. Open your mind. The day is waiting for you.”
This book is fatefully known as the book that beat Charlotte’s Web for the Newbery Award. Some on the committee have explained their votes by saying there are no good books on South America. History tells its take on that.
Great tale and a short read. Slow at first but picks up quickly. Keeps the readers guessing to the very end as to what the Secret of the Andes is and who Cusi is. My kids and I had fun in guessing who Cusi really was and what his purpose was.
Great depiction of the Incas. One of our favorite parts is how Inca Indians keep showing up to help Cusi on his journeys and how everyone knows who he is but Cusi doesn’t. Great story weaving. Great, vivid descriptions. Great book for the family and on finding your own heart’s desire and path in the world.