ONCE UPON A CAMEL, by Kathi Appelt and Eric Rohmann, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Sept. 7, 2021, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 8-12)
An old camel must save two kestrel chicks during a massive dust storm in Once Upon a Camel, written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Eric Rohmann.
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. —Synopsis provided by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Kathi Appelt is a master storyteller. I was profoundly moved by her Maybe a Fox, and was equally transfixed by her latest middle-grade novel, Once Upon a Camel.
In Once Upon a Camel, Appelt transports readers to different times and places that feel exotic and familiar at the same time. Even the unexpected plot of a camel caring for two young kestrels seems perfectly normal. And that Zada is also a storyteller and a storyteller with grand adventures in her past, is even better.
Zada is the perfect counter-point to the kestrels, calm and quiet, but bold when she needs to be. She is more like a wise grandparent than a parent, and that’s probably why the juxtaposition works so well.
Though Once Upon a Camel doesn’t feature as many illustrations as you’d expect to see in “easier” middle grade, the illustrations that are present are gorgeous and pair perfectly with Appelt’s comforting prose.
Once Upon a Camel is a delightful novel that middle-readers are likely to read more than once.
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 for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at kathiappelt.com. You can also find Kathi Appelt on Facebook and Pinterest.
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