- Megan Bingham
"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!"
So begins Margarita Engle's joyful picture book, All the Way to Havana. The narrator, a young boy who lives in Cuba, and his family are preparing to go see his new cousin in Havana. They take "Cara Cara," their 1954 blue Chevy that is supposed to purr like a kitten. But Cara Cara is so tired, she just chatters away like a baby chicken: "Pío, pío, pío, pío, pffft." The narrator's father fixes Cara Cara with each clunk clunk, something he does often to the old vintage vehicle.
The road to Havana is bumpy and cramped, but they have a gift; they have cake; and they're driving to a zero-year birthday party! As the trip commences, the narrator views other cars much like Cara Cara, old noisy cars of every color, torn seats, shattered windows, and cracked mirrors. Many of the cars roar, growl, whine, or putt putt. After the zero-year birthday party, "Cara Cara taka taka pío, pío clunk sleep." Someday, Cara Cara will be the narrator's. It has belonged to the family since his abuelo, his old grandpa, celebrated his zero-year birthday! Cara Cara makes the young boy feel proud and powerful, just like the bald eagle that makes Cara Cara's sky-blue hood so brave!
All the Way to Havana is a wonderful picture book with realistic imagery about the Cuban people and their resourceful, innovative spirit. Many of the cars on the island of Cuba are pre-1959. Despite the age of the cars, the Cuban people have managed to keep the machines running long past the age when people normally discard them. Instead, the cars are looked at with admiration by the residents of Cuba, who struggle to preserve, create, and invent new ways to take care of their cars. Although the young boy may eventually encounter modern-day models of cars, he will always keep his family's vintage antique car running smoothly, just like Abuelo and Papá did before him.