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Muktar and the Camels
Graber, Janet; Scott Mack, (illus.) Muktar and the Camels . New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2009. $16.99, ISBN 9780805078343 /0805078347.

Note: "Muktar lives in an orphanage on the border of Kenya and Somalia. He daydreams about his old life with his family and especially tending to camels. One day, visitors arrive bearing books, and Muktar's friend Ismail is excited; so is Muktar, but for a different reason the visitors are riding on camels. Muktar quickly discovers that one of the animals is injured and realizes this is his chance to prove himself. If there is anything Muktar knows, it is camels. Through the eyes of an endearing protagonist whose love and respect for animals shines, this story introduces young readers to another part of the world and way of life."


This is the story of two eleven-year old Somali boys living in a small orphanage in Kenya's Northern Frontier District (NFD). While one of them, Ismail, loves to read and dreams of further education, the other, Mukhtar, misses the life he led before the Somali civil war and especially the camels his father taught him to herd and value. Then something happens that makes both boys happy: Someone arrives from Garissa with three camels whose loads consist of books. Without even being asked, Mukhtar cures the foot injury of one of the camels with a root originally given to him by his father. When the peripatetic librarian notices how good Mukhtar is with camels, he hires him to accompany him and the camel-back loan library.

The book, written for children of the same age as (or a bit younger than) the protagonists, is based on an existing service the National Library of Kenya provides for areas surrounding the regional capital of Garissa. It celebrates the aspirations of both boys, putting his camel-herding skills to good use in the case of Mukhtar, while Ismail wants to read and study. It is written with sensitivity and has beautiful illustrations, whose soft lines invoke the dusty landscape of NFD. Graber, a resident of Minnesota, is a well established writer of children's literature, while for Mack, a Michigan resident, this is the first children's book he illustrates. Neither underestimates the intelligence and the power of imagination of their young readers.

It feels petty to point out some small factual mistakes such as the fact that Somalis generally do not ride their camels, make cheese, or weave things from camel hair (as Somali camels are smooth-skinned). They would probably call the maize porridge that is the daily staple in the orphanage ugali rather than posho. However, this does not really detract from this book. It presents what for many North American readers might have been a distant, exotic, and pitiable world as a place in which young school children like themselves discover what they like and can do well, and dream of developing those qualities for the future. Highly recommended.

Copyright 2010 Africa Access

Rating: HR Grade: P / E Type: Book

Reviewed by: Lidwien Kapteijns Wellesley College

Subject: East Africa / Kenya / Somalia / Culture