Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Ride and a Memory

This is me at two year's old in front of our house.
And there's that car, I think.  Or it might be my uncle's car.
Two things immediately sprang to mind when I first held this book in my hands.  (I had no preconceptions about the story.)  The car on the cover reminded me of the one my parents had when I was a little girl.  The car was with us for a very long time because my parents did not believe in loans or mortgages.  If you didn't have the money for something, you did not get it or you started saving until you could afford it.  If something went wrong on the car, my dad could make it right.  (I learned more than I ever wanted to know about what was under the hood of a car.)

When I read All The Way To Havana (Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, August 29, 2017) written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Mike Curato, it resonated with me for the reasons above but especially for the portrait of life in Cuba.  Affection for this family filled my heart.  Their inventiveness is truly inspirational.

We have a gift, and we have a cake, and today we're going to drive all the way to the big city to see my new baby cousin on his zero-year birthday. 

The boy goes on to tell us about the old cars on the island comparing the purrs of some to the little chick sound their car makes.  He and his father need to work on the car if they are to arrive in Havana.  He can see once the hood is lifted how repair after repair has been made using

wire, tape, and mixed-up scraps of dented metal.

The two of them adjust and tinker and adjust some more trying to get Cara Cara (the name of the car) to sound differently.  Nothing they do seems to fix it until...the little chick sound grows up.  It's a hen and she's ready to travel.  Friends who need a lift to their destination fill the seats.  It's a bouncy ride but the car keeps making her mechanical music.

Soon the scenery changes into the buildings across the skyline.  There are old cars of every color running down the street.  Their condition and the sounds they make fill the child's eyes and ears.  The steady honking is a city symphony.

At his aunt's house the gift is opened and the cake is eaten.  After much laughter and fun, the boy takes a siesta.  When he wakes the sky is dark and they leave in Cara Cara for home.  The next morning the boy and his father talk and again tend to their car.  Its heritage is a testament to hope.

In choosing to write this narrative from the point of view of the boyYoung People's Poet Laureate Margarita Engle speaks directly to the heart of child readers but also through his voice all who read this book will have a greater understanding of the people of Cuba.  The insertion of sounds supplies a lyrical rhythm which invites listeners (and readers) into the story with the boy.  Her concise sentences followed by longer ones also contribute to the cadence.  They read like a child thinks and talks.  Here is a sample passage.

So we purr cara cara

and we glide taka taka

and we zoom zoom---



beside farms, forests, beaches, and forts.

When stopping and savoring the opened dust jacket for the second time, I marveled at the use of light and shadow, design and layout and the details on both the front and the back.  The lines on the elements draw our eyes to the boy leaning against Cara Cara on the front.  To the left on the back, the hue used to provide a background for Margarita's and Mike's names is the canvas.  Set in an oval of a cream color is the car with the boy looking out the back window.  Two hens and chicks are busily pecking and walking around the bottom of the oval.  (Cara Cara and the boy are varnished.)

I gasped when I took off the jacket to see the book case.  Nearly covering the entire area is Cara Cara front to back, right to left on the case.  We are looking at the car from above.  It crosses the spine perfectly.  And then I saw the endpapers.

On the opening and closing endpapers, Mike Curato, on a background of dark yellow-orange, has drawn in detail, in black, twenty-four cars, most dated in the 1950s. (He labels the make, model and year.)  A colorful wash is brushed over each one.  With a page turn we have the verso page on the left and the title page on the right.  The text is set in the front window of Cara Cara which spans both pages.  It's as if we are in the front seat.

used pencil acrylic, paper, photo overlay, digital color in Adobe Photoshop, and other mixed-media 

to create these stunning illustrations.  His perspectives from inside the car looking outside and panoramic views along with zooming in close bring us willingly into the story.  There is animation in every picture, even when the boy is sleeping in his mother's arms. 

The details of the countryside and then in the city are nearly photographic but there is a quality of softness to them which works well with the matte-finished paper.  A full color palette greets us throughout the title.  A genuineness and warmth fill each visual.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy is helping his dad repair the car before they leave for the city.  In the bottom corner sits the opened, heavy toolbox.  As our eyes travel upward we see a hen and two curious chicks.  They are moving to the right middle of the page.  Here the barefoot boy is standing on a wooden box on his tip-toes next to the car.  Another little chick is on the box.  All we can see is the child's feet, legs and the bottom portion of his shorts.  We can only see the lower half of Cara Cara.

With every reading of All The Way To Havana written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Mike Curato my admiration and respect for this boy, his family and the people of Cuba grows.  The text and art blend but enhance one another elevating this book to something deeply meaningful; to something extraordinary.  I am grateful to Margarita Engle and Mike Curato for giving us All The Way To Havana.  An Author's Note and Illustrator's Note conclude the book.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves. 

To learn more about Margarita Engle and Mike Curato and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Mike Curato also maintains a blog.  On his website you can view interior images from this book.  On his blog he talks about his process and the trip to Cuba.  The book trailer premiere can be seen at All The Wonders.  You will enjoy the short Q & A.  Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson features artwork on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast after talking with Margarita and Mike the previous week at Kirkus.   


  1. Waiting to get my hands on this book...it's on order at my library. But I won't be able to pry off the library-fixed book jacket, so I'm so glad to know its hidden secret.

    1. I hope by now Annette you have been able to read this title. I never know if I should share what's under the jacket but I can't help myself, especially in this instance.