All the Way to Havana

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
All the Way to Havana Book Poster Image
Celebration of Cuban family and ingenuity has gorgeous art.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Details of family life in Cuba. Cuba is an island nation; Havana's on the sea. Old midcentury cars. Mechanics of car and engine repair. Some Spanish language in text and art.

Positive Messages

When things are broken, you can repair them. If the fix doesn't work at first, "We don't give up. We experiment. We invent!" It's good for families to keep in touch and celebrate with each other even if they live far apart.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The family travels a long way to celebrate the new baby in their family. They give their neighbor family a ride in their car, though it's a tight fit. Cubans don't discard old cars; they repair them in ingenious ways. The young boy helps his father tinker with the engine.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that All the Way to Havana by Cuban-American poet and Newbery Honoree Margarita Engle (The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom), and illustrated by Mike Curato (Little Elliot, Big City), is a loving account of a family road trip in Cuba. When a rural family wants to visit their Havana cousins to celebrate the birth of a new baby, they first have to repair the engine on their rattletrap 1954 Chevy. Though there's no mention of the 1959 revolution or resultant U.S. embargo, it's clear that the island doesn't have access to shiny new cars or other consumer goods, and we see the people cleverly and creatively fix what they have. The family and neighbors are warm and friendly, and the very detailed art paints a vivid picture of Cuba, its people, and its roads filled with "noisy old cars of every color."

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What's the story?

In ALL THE WAY TO HAVANA, a Cuban boy and his family travel from their rural Cuban village in their ramshackle mid-20th-century car to celebrate the "zero-year" birthday of a new baby cousin in Havana. But first they have to repair the "tired" engine that has "all the rattling parts that have been fixed with wire, tape, and mixed-up scraps of dented metal." The boy and dad tinker with the engine until they get it running, then take off on the road trip. After the family fiesta, they return home on dark roads under a bright moon, and the boy expresses his affection for their car.

Is it any good?

Folks on both sides of the political aisle who admire the vibrancy of the Cuban people will relish this warm family story about a road trip to Havana to celebrate the birth of a new baby cousin. All the Way to Havana paints a picture of a rural Cuban family and their inventive ingenuity in keeping their pre-Cuban Revolution 1954 Chevy running. Author Margarita Engle plays with sounds in the rural village where baby chicks chirp "pío pío," and the rickety car engine sputters "cara cara." Embedded in her story are lessons about a society that's not endlessly disposable and that enjoys life's simple pleasures.

Illustrator Mike Curato traveled to Cuba to research the art, and it shows. The family, retro cars, and street scenes are lovingly rendered using a combination of pencil drawing, painting, and textures added from photos. He is as skilled at depicting the stately old buildings of the capital as he is the warm brown faces of the Cuban people, making this a beautiful, nearly keepsake portrait of the colorful island nation.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ingenuity of the family in All the Way to Havana. What does your family do when mechanical things break? Do you ever try to fix what's broken or do you more often buy new items to replace them?

  • Why do you think Cuba has so many old cars and no new ones? What do you know about the political history of Cuba?

  • What language do people speak in Cuba? Can you find examples of that language in the text and in the art?

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