Camels and Kestrels and Mountain Lions! Oh My!
Middle-grade novels, like middle-grade children, are a specialized bunch. They are less whimsical or beautiful than a picture book, although they may have good illustrations and a sense of humor. They are less gritty than YA, although they often touch on difficult subjects. Done well, they are worthy of high praise, like teachers who spend their entire careers with sixth-graders. Kathi Appelt’s 2021 release Once Upon a Camel is such a delight.
The story places in conversation two things we don’t often juxtapose: the beauty of Turkish civilization and the beauty of far West Texas — Big Bend country. Those two beauties meet in the camels a pasha gifts to the U.S. Army shortly before the Civil War. These camels find a familiar-ish home in the land that marries the Chisos Mountains and Chihuhuan Desert.
This is the story of Zada, the last camel in Texas. As she narrates her tale, much of it to a family of kestrels who has adopted her, we connect with our own stories, especially in the chapters where things don’t go as planned for our camel friend. But her story matters because it involves the saving of lives.
In the Author’s Note, Appelt writes about Scheherazade, whose story was one of the inspirations for this one.
“If you know that ancient teller of tales, then you also know that she spun her stories in order to save her own life, and in the process, she saved other lives too.
That is also the way of stories. To save lives.”
Read the rest at Tweetspeak Poetry