Book Review and Giveaway: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

ONCE UPON A CAMEL
by Kathi Appelt
Categories: Middle Grade Fiction / Historical / Friendship / Ages 8-12
Publisher: Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Pub Date: September 7, 2021
Pages: 336 pages

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Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion. But those stories were from before.
Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

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Once Upon a Camel is a story about life, and learning, and change, and finding family where you are. The story is told from the viewpoint of Zada, a camel who started her life as one of the Pasha’s camels in Smyrna, Turkey, in 1850. She was raised as a racing camel. Zada is now in her later years, and she is no longer in Turkey, but is (as far as she knows) the last camel in Texas. She came to Texas as part of a group of camels that would be used to transport supplies for the U.S. military.

The rest of the camels, including Zada’s best friend, Asiye, are long gone. Zada has formed new friendships with a pair of kestrels, Perdita and Pard. When a haboob (what Zada knows it as – we’d call it a sandstorm) comes blowing in, Perdita and Pard ask for Zada’s help in getting their babies, Wims and Beulah, to safety. Thus begins a tale of adventure!

Zada gets the little birds settled snugly atop her head, but as they set out for a place of safety, the storm blows Perdita and Pard away! Zada is faced with the rather daunting task of protecting her young charges from the wind and sand, from an old frenemy, and even from each other. She does so with patience and good humor, and as she works to help the little birds stay calm, we learn the story of Zada’s life.

I had no idea there were camels in Texas! My history nerd husband, of course, knew exactly what I was talking about when I told him about the book. I love books that are fun to read and that educate at the same time, and this one does both admirably. Wims and Beulah are just about the cutest little baby birds ever, and they bicker and squabble just as you’d expect siblings to do, even when there’s danger lurking nearby. Their interactions are so humorous, I couldn’t help but laugh.

Zada isn’t like a surrogate mother to the baby birds. She’s more like a grandmother figure, who’s gained wisdom through her life and is now figuring out how to pass that on to her unruly charges. She’s patient, she doesn’t let Wims and Beulah see her lose her cool even when she’s not quite sure how things are going to work out, she perseveres to get them to safety.

The artwork complements the story nicely. There isn’t much of it, but what there is is wonderfully done. And I’m not going to spoil the ending, but it made me smile (and even tear up a little) to see how Appelt wove all the threads together.

So much fun to read! This will be a great book for younger middle readers. The age range given on Amazon is 8-12 years, but it may be a little on the young side for some 12-year-olds. My younger son is a very precocious 12, and he wasn’t the least bit interested in the story. His loss. I loved it. (And when he was 8 or 9, he would have loved it, too!)

Five humps – I mean, stars – for Once Upon a Camel!

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Mogie, the Heart of the House. She lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and five gifted and talented cats.

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Three signed copies of the book.
(US only. Ends midnight, CDT, 10/9/21)

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1 Response to Book Review and Giveaway: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

  1. Great review! It’s a quandary because the vocabulary is a higher level than elementary-aged, but the story does seem more geared for that age group. But I think whomever reads it, no matter the age, will find the same delights as you (and I) did. So much information delivered in a fun way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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