Even for an experienced traveler like Charlie, Cuba is a place unlike any he has visited before — an island full of surprises, secrets and puzzling contradictions.
When Charlie’s artist mother is invited to visit a school in Cuba, the whole family goes along on the trip. But the island they discover is a far cry from the all-inclusive resorts that Charlie has heard his friends talk about.
Charlie has never visited a country as strange and puzzling as Cuba — a country where he often feels like a time traveler. Where Havana’s grand Hotel Nacional sits next to buildings that seem to be crumbling before his very eyes. Where the streets are filled with empty storefronts and packs of wild dogs, but where flowers and sherbet-colored houses may lie around the next corner, and music is everywhere. Where there are many different kinds of walls — from Havana’s famous sea wall to the invisible ones that seem aimed at keeping tourists and locals apart.
Then the family heads “off the beaten track,” traveling by hot, dusty bus to Viñales, where Charlie makes friends with Lázaro, who often flies from Miami to visit his Cuban relatives. The boys ride a horse bareback, find a secret cache of rifles inside a little green mountain and go swimming with small albino fish in an underground cave. A rent-a-wreck takes the family into the countryside, where they find an abandoned hotel inhabited by goats, and a modern resort filled with tourists.
And as he goes from one strange and marvelous escapade to another, Charlie finds that his expectations about a place and its people are overturned again and again.
Key Text Features
Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:
Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone
Explain how specific aspects of a text's illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)
Marie-Louise Gay is an internationally acclaimed author and illustrator of children’s books. She has won two Governor General’s Literary Awards, the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. She has also been nominated for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Marie-Louise’s very popular Stella and Sam series has been translated into more than fifteen languages and is loved by children all over the world. Her recent books include Mustafa and Fern and Horn. She lives in Montreal. marielouisegay.com
David Homel is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, journalist and translator. He has won the Governor General’s Award for translation, the Hugh MacLennan Prize and the Jewish Public Library Award for fiction.