Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Secret of the Andes – Part I

In 1953, the Newbery Committee chose a Newbery winner and five honor books.  The winner?  Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark.  The honor books?

    * Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
    * Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
    * Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil
    * The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh
    * Birthdays of Freedom, Vol. 1 by Genevieve Foster

Yes, you are seeing correctly.  Charlotte’s Web was an honor book.

It is clear which of these books has stood the test of time.  While most of us have read Charlotte’s Web, probably more than once, Secret of the Andes is less well-known, and I would venture a guess that it is less often read.

So, I am wondering what it is about the winner that made it THE most distinguished piece of writing that was written for children in 1952.  So, I have a proposition. Let’s read it.  All of us.  And re-read Charlotte’s Web as well and then we’ll discuss.  Would you, today, choose the same winner that was chosen for the 1953 award?  Without considering popularity, but considering only literary quality as established by the Newbery Criteria, of course.

I’ll come back for a Secret of the Andes – Part II post after Thanksgiving.  Give myself, and the rest of us, a chance to get our hands on and read the book.  And then I’ll let you know what I think.  And I look forward to hearing your thoughts as well.


Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at


  1. I’m in

  2. I have to wait until after Thanksgiving to tell you what I thought of that book?

  3. sharon mckellar says:

    you’re welcome to tell me now! i just was giving people until after thanksgiving before i post another post more geared at how we feel about it as a newbery winner. but i’d love to hear your thoughts now, if you want to share.

  4. Well, I honestly approached the book with an open mind. I like Charlotte’s Web, but it isn’t a particular favorite. But in my opinion, Secret of the Andes is one of the very worst Newberys, on its own merit (or lack thereof) alone. It isn’t as racist as some (cough Amos Fortune cough), but the writing is not good at all. In particular, Cusi frequently ”

  5. (cut me off–continued) In particular, Cusi frequently “thinks” things that make no sense for the character–I mean, he’s lived with one other person his whole life, doesn’t remember ever knowing anyone else, and yet–in his head, he refers to his caregiver as “the old Indian”? The author makes her presence felt in other ways, too.

    I also thought it was dull, but that’s my own problem.

  6. Holy Cow. All these years I’ve been told that Secret of the Andes beat out Charlotte’s Web, and NEVER been told that it also beat out Moccasin Trail. I knew that the Eloise Jarvis McGraw was an honor book, but not that it was the honor book in that year of Infamy. Moccasin Trail doesn’t have the following of Charlotte’s Web, but it is a wonderful book. Is it okay if I argue that IT should have gotten the gold, and not Secret of the Andes?


    I’m in! I’m (slowly) working my way through the Newbery medal/honor winning books, so my next one will be Secret of the Andes.

  8. sharon mckellar says:

    hope – absolutely. i haven’t read moccasin trail, but i’m interested in hearing thoughts in general about this particular year in newbery history!

  9. I don’t think it’s necessarily Newbery quality, but The Bears on Hemlock Mountain is a book I LOVED as a child! How funny to see it on this list, too.

  10. Okay, I can see already see that it is going to be a three way tie between Charlotte, Moccasin Trail, and the Bears. Now we know why Secret of the Andes won. Who’s going to stick up for Genevieve Foster?

  11. I, too, vote for Moccasin Trail. And I have an irresistible argument in its favor:

    Jim Keath.

    Leslie, palpitating

    (More arguments provided upon request

  12. I hadn’t read the book in probably 20 years, so I re-read it. My comments include spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book, be warned.

    It’s not a bad story. There is suspense running through it; one genuinely wants to know what the secret is (but heavy-handed hints pretty much give it away, I have to say). On the whole, though, I found it disappointing. Yes, Cusi came back, having decided that Chuto and the llamas are his family, and we see something of his future. I think we’re supposed to be impressed by the timelessness of it all (only because they mention a truck do we have any idea it’s set in the 20th century), and the patient waiting, and the guarding of the secret. I wasn’t. And the having Cusi meet his real mother, very briefly, and not knowing who she was, only to have her and her whole village presumably wiped out by a landslide to me minimized Cusi’s sacrifice in agreeing to be the new guardian. It’s one thing to say that on one day’s acquaintance he didn’t feel part of the family that took him in in the city; wouldn’t have given up the gold sandals for them as he
    would for Chuto or Misti. It would have been more of a sacrifice if he’d actually been given a choice about his own mother and family.

    As to why it won: It’s written in poetic or would-be poetic language. “The minstrel was wild and free as sound can be wild and free.” The Newbery committees seem to love Worthy books and to fawn over what is, according to them, Luminous and Lyrical. Charlotte’s Web and Moccasin Trail don’t go out of their way to be any of those things. They have wonderful descriptions, and great stories, but they don’t do the repetitive, weighty, chant-y stuff: “They did not look back. They had begun their journey. They were on their way.” When one is left with the impression that the author was being deliberately, almost self-consciously, Artistic, that is not a good thing.

    Ultimately, I didn’t really care what choice Cusi made. He’s not a character that I find very memorable (and neither is anybody else in the book). Wilbur and Charlotte and Fern and Templeton and the rest of the crew, yes. Jim and the rest of the Keaths, yes.

    Through no fault of the author, the book was written back in the days when the Incas were compared favorably to the Aztecs as not practicing bloody and human sacrifices. So we get the poetic chants to the sun, and the shining innocence of the Inca contrasted with the wicked conquistadors. I’ll grant you that the conquistadors could be quite unpleasant, but given that we now know that the Incas were practicing human sacrifice – of children, no less – I’d say the pure-blooded Incas Chuto and Cusi needed to contemplate pot/kettle.

    I’m only a second-time poster (my first post, above, was rather precipitate). I would back either Moccasin Trail or Charlotte’s Web for the gold in preference to Secret of the Andes.

  13. My paragraphs went away. Sorry. I don’t know HTML.

Speak Your Mind