Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 7 to 10
- Grade: 2 to 5
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 a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.
About the authors
MARIE-LOUISE GAY has achieved international acclaim as an author and illustrator of children’s books. She has won many awards, including two Governor General’s awards, the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award 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 Any Questions? and Short Stories for Little Monsters. She lives in Montreal. marielouisegay.com
David Homel has translated over 30 books, many by Quebec authors. He won the Governor General's Literary Award in translation in 1995 for Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex? by Dany Laferrière; his translation of Laferrière's How to Make Love to a Negro was nominated in 1988; and he won the prize in 2001 with fellow translator Fred A. Reed for Fairy Wing. His novels, which include Sonya & Jack, Electrical Storms, and The Speaking Cure have been published in several languages. Homel lives in Montreal, Quebec.
Excerpt: Travels in Cuba (illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay; by (author) David Homel)
Here we were in the middle of nowhere, not knowing anyone, and we had no place to stay.
And the sun would be going down soon.
Even Max knew better than to say anything.
In the silence, I heard a clip-clop, and looked up. A big brown horse was coming slowly down the road in our direction. A barefoot boy a little older than me was riding him, without a saddle. I wondered how he managed not to fall off.
He stopped in front of us. He looked at us standing there with our bags in front of the closed garden gate.
“Hotel problem?” he said.
With authentic dialogue and plenty of humour, along with Gay’s familiar quirky drawings, this is a highly recommended book.
Winnipeg Free Press
[D]oes a lovely job of highlighting Cuban culture while also addressing directly the very real issues that come with over 60 years of communist rule.