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.

Muktar and the Camels

Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber, illustrated by Scott Mack

Muktar lives in a Somalian orphanage after his parents have died.  His parents had roamed Somalia with camels before the drought and war changed everything.  Now all Muktar has of his old life is a withered root that his father gave him and told him to use wisely.  Then one day, a man arrives with three camels loaded with books.  Muktar is asked to help unload the camels and as he does, he notices a wound on the foot of one camel.  The librarian is too busy to listen to his concerns, so Muktar creates a poultice with the root his father gave him.  By the time the librarian discovers the problem, the camel’s foot is better and Muktar has impressed him enough to offer him a job with the camels.

This book is based on the library service of the Kenya National Library Service which has camel convoys of books eight times a month that serve schools and orphanages in the outlying areas.  Muktar and his love of animals shines in this book.  His skill with camels is impressive as is his strength in the face of such overwhelming change in his life.  Graber’s text tells the story plainly, not dwelling too long on the loss but more on the present.  Mack’s illustrations, done in oils on canvas, show a land dried and hardened, but people who are surviving despite the obstacles.

Recommended as a window to another way of living, this book is appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.