Friday, April 4, 2014

Muktar and the Camels - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     First, "Thank You" to everyone who voted for my fractured fairy tale during Susanna Leonard Hill's March madness contest. There were so many great stories, winning first place was an honor! I learned a lot, reading everyone's entries.
     But now it's back to Perfect Picture Book Friday! I love thinking about picture books, and pointing out my favorites.
     The book I'm reviewing this week is from my local library. I like to think that the reason I discover titles several years old that I haven't read yet is because during my previous library visits they were being enjoyed in children's homes! You'll want to find this one, too.
     I have been fortunate to travel outside the United States, but I've never been to Africa. And I hadn't read a picture book about Somali orphans before. Although I didn't know that was what this book was about when I picked it up. I picked it up because of the camel on the cover. Ever since I got to feed the camels at the San Diego zoo I've had a soft spot for camel lips. Yes, lips, not a typo. Up close, the animals don't smell particularly delightful, and the fur on their sides is coarse, but their lips are velvet. As long as they aren't aiming a gob of spit my way, I understand Muktar's attraction to these creatures.
Title: Muktar and the Camels
2009 Smithsonian Notable Book for Children
Author: Janet Graber
Illustrator: Scott Mack
Publisher: Henry Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books, 2009
Intended Audience: 4-8 
Themes: Orphans, Somalia and Kenya, Camels
     Bare feet slap across the hard earthen floor of the Iftin Orphanage as children gather in the dining hall to gobble down bowls of warm posho.

Synopsis: An eleven year-old boy who lives in an orphanage on the border of Kenya and Somalia misses the nomadic life he shared with his parents and dreams of tending camels again when a librarian brings books--and three camels--to his school.
What I liked about this book: The book is poignant, but not sad. This is one instance where I thought the use of a flashback in a picture book was effective. In just one spread it took me to the world where "Camels are treasure." They are transportation, food and fabric. The camel meant life to Muktar. And now he has neither his parents nor the camels.
     The author's note at the end of the book touches very briefly on the political situation in Somalia that gave rise to orphanages like Muktar's. The book is based on real libraries that are transported by a three-camel convoy eight times a month to orphanages in these areas. I grew up in an area that had a bookmobile and remember how I waited excitedly on the street corner for the books to arrive. (they have since built a library!)
     The illustrations done in oil on canvas lend a dreamy feel to the spreads. At times, it was as if I could feel the shimmering heat and drought.

Activities and Resources: The publisher's link above takes you to a page that shows three spreads from the book. You can also click on the author link on that page for an interview with Ms. Graber (the illustrator link leads to a blank page). Pinterest has a wealth of camel crafts for kids. I loved the egg carton camels and the handprint camels. On youtube, an art teacher named Abbeth can show you how to make a camel out of six pipe cleaners. (I never liked working with pipe cleaners, always poking myself, but maybe you are more coordinated!)
     In February, Roberta posted on the Nonfiction Monday blog about My Librarian is a Camel.  Read (or reread!) both books and talk about the value of libraries and getting books to those without them.
Go through your books at home and select a few to pass along. If you are in Georgia or Minnesota you might consider dropping the books off to go to kids in Africa like Muktar through the Books for Africa program! Better World Books has dropoff locations in many areas, too and local libraries are often on the lookout for books for their second hand sales.
     Learn more about Somalia. I like to start with a map and overview at National Geographic, but searching the country name brings up hundreds of results.

    This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

I rode a camel when we were in Lanzarote. Have you ever ridden one?


  1. This is lovely. I am a sucker for historical fiction. Thanks for sharing, Wendy.

  2. Congrats on your win! And thanks for this recommendation. I haven't seen it and it looks like a keeper. "Poignant but not sad" - I like that!

  3. I've been to the San Diego Zoo a couple of times, but never got to feed the camels. Now I'm intrigued. We've only fed a giraffe at the Santa Barbara Zoo. This looks like a great book, Wendy.

  4. This sounds fascinating, Wendy. I don't know anything about camels, except for a book I once read - a memoir about a woman who trekked across Australia with camels. I can't remember the name, but it was a pretty popular 'book club' book at the time - anyway, she made the camels sound AWFUL. This book sounds much more enjoyable. :-)

  5. I haven't seen a picture book about the orphans of Somalia. Will have to check this one out. Like the idea of a camel book mobile. Hadn't thought about that before. This sounds like a beautiful story. We have a number of multicultural books being shared today.

    Congratulations on your winning story. Well-deserved.

  6. This one sounds great. I hadn't heard of it. Thanks.

  7. I have written a picture book about a little nomad and his camel, but it is a Bactrian Camel. I would most definitely enjoy this story and the illustrations done in oil are quite unusual.

  8. Oh I just signed out without publishing my long comment! I hope I don't do that again and can remember some of what I wrote. First congrats on your win. It was quite an accomplishment. Next -- I rode on a camel twice at our county 4H fair two years in a row. And then third -- this book reminds me of the Lost Boys. Weren't they from war torn Somalia?

    That book and this sounds to me like I need to treat myself to reading them real soon. :)

  9. This book looks wonderful, Wendy! I have never been near a camel, but I know what horses' lips are like :) I love all your activities and suggestions for donating books! Thanks for a great addition to our list - I will have to read this one!

  10. What a good way to introduce the concept of the difficulties children in places like Somalia face. It might also be good in places where there are many Somali refugees, for their classmates to get a better idea of what the Somali children left behind.

    And I must also say congrats on your win!

  11. I like the image of a library traveling by camel instead of by book-mobile. nice review.

  12. You totally deserved the win, Wendy! Congratulations again!!

    This book sounds like something kids of all ages (and adults too) should read. It's a wonderful way to learn more about world geography, politics and social issues.

  13. I've seen pictures of camel libraries. I would love to see one around here. That would be pretty cool. I've read about some of those orphan boys in Africa. It's a sad situation. I'll be looking for this book. Thanks for sharing!

  14. A great book AND so many interesting links to explore! I don't know where to stat.Thanks for a great review.