Review: The Camel in the Sun by Griffin Ondaatje

camel in the sun

The Camel in the Sun by Griffin Ondaatje, illustrated by Linda Wolfsgruber

Based on a story from Sri Lanka and a traditional Muslim hadith, this book is the story of an aging camel.  The camel has traveled the deserts carrying his owner and bundles of trade goods for years.  One day the camel starts to cry with his misery, but his owner shows no compassion and simply climbs back on.  The camel never showed his misery in the daylight again, but at night he started to escape and float like a boat on the water.  Then they arrived in the city of Medina, where the Prophet was staying.  The camel’s owner immediately goes to sleep in the shade, leaving his camel on a short lead, tied in place, and in the full heat of the sun.  The Prophet sees the grief of the camel and shows the owner what the camel is feeling. 

Beautifully told, this book pays deep homage to the traditions that it is based on.  The origins of the story are clearly detailed in his author’s note.  Ondaatje demonstrates the misery of the life of the camel and his sadness in detail, making sure that readers understand that this is deep sadness and a life of misery.  He clearly explains compassion in a tangible way, showing readers what it means to learn how to be compassionate.

The illustrations are exceptional.  They capture the grittiness of the desert with earth tones using different painting techniques combined with line drawings in various colors.  Readers will notice that the Prophet is not depicted in the images, showing respect for the culture and beliefs. 

A strong story about compassion, this book offers a glimpse at Muslim traditions as well as a beautiful story that everyone can enjoy and learn from.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.