By Mariana Llanos, illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson, Barefoot Books 2021
This book had been hotly anticipated in our house. My son has an endless enthusiasm for all things ancient civilizations, and greeted the arrival of a book set in the Inka world with glee. I had been enjoying Mariana Llanos’ tweets with facts about the Inkas in the lead up to publication day. And it’s from Barefoot, one of my favourite publishers.
Run, Little Chaski! has lived up to all our expectations. The story engages my three-year-old daughter as Little Chaski, a young messenger boy, helps and befriends a series of animals on his journey along the Inka trail, taking a khipu, a knotted message, from the Qoya (queen) to the Inka (king). She’s a little impatient as I check the pronunciation of the Quechua words in the glossary at the back, but as I read it over again, I’m more fluent, and soon she’s echoing me.
The story is energetic, driven along by Little Chaski’s sandals, chakiti, chakiti, on the ground, racing the sun, Tayta Inti, across the landscape. The illustrations are bold with bright colours, and the faces are expressive – ‘Why does Tayta Inti look worried?’ she asks as another mishap befalls Little Chaski. We meet some less-familiar animal friends, chinchilla, allqu and condor – and then spot them again in the pictures as they come racing to help Little Chaski. (The animals are cute – we would love stuffies to accompany the book or a whole kit to act it out, a ch’uspa (bag) and a khipu (knotted message) – maybe we can innovate…)
My seven year old enjoys the story too, but he’s digging into the backnotes, checking the modern countries where the Inkas lived, learning about the chaskis and the khipu messages that they carried. There don’t seem to be many children’s books set in the Inka world, and this one, with its lively story, subtle message of kindness, and vivid illustrations is a very welcome addition to our bookshelf. These glimpses of another world inspire us to keep exploring and understanding. Looking forward to the day when we can take them to Peru and beyond to explore the Inka sites for themselves.