Lynn: Once upon a time there was a camel named Scheherazade, who was called Zada. Kathi Appelt tells us Zada’s story, in her charming new book, Once Upon a Camel (S&S/Atheneum, 2021) Zada is a story teller just like her famous namesake and her story of family, love, courage, and holding on to memories is a story that saves the lives of her friends, the Kestrel family, and Zada herself.
It all started in a West Texas sandstorm in 1910. No, wait, it all started in Smyrna, Syria in 1850. Two tiny camels were born into the Pasha’s famous stables, destined to become best friends and prize racers. Zada and Asiye were fast friends and as fast of the winds of the desert. Zada and her Kestrel family’s story of danger and adventure comes later. So let us return to the Texas wilderness of 1910 and the towering haboob that blows Pard and Perlita into the choking sand and leaves Zada to care for their chicks, Wims and Beulah, and to somehow get them to safety at the Mission so many miles away.
It is a tale of dangers and fears, of bravery and love, and above all it is all about the power of story. And isn’t that something we all need to lighten our way through the darkness of whatever storm we walk through?
Kathi Appelt’s newest story is guaranteed to win the hearts of every reader. With richly developed and endearing characters, a spellbinding plot, and, of course, a happy ending. I love the historical facts that sparked this story. Yes, there really were camels brought to Texas just prior to the Civil War! This is the PERFECT book for reading aloud in a classroom. The chapters are short, packed with humor and perilous moments that will have listeners begging for just one more chapter!
Cindy: Put this book on display and Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous and slightly silly cover illustration will have it fly off the shelf as fast as an American Kestrel! Zada with her two nestling kestrel babies perched on her head will have kids giggling before they even start to read. His art sprinkled throughout the book is a treat as well.
I agree with Lynn about this being a great read-aloud, whether in a classroom or between parent and child. The time-shifting plot and stories within stories structure will require a strong reader or a little explanation from an adult, but the payoff is delightful. My middle schoolers were always fascinated by my booktalk for Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner (Atheneum, 1999), because I started with an introduction to Scheherazade, a legendary character they did not know. Some had heard of the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights, and of course, Aladdin, thanks to Disney, but they did not know of the storyteller or the way in which she saved her life, and that of the other women in ancient Persia. In fact, we stenciled a quote from that book on the library bulkhead to remind our students every visit of the power of story. “Stories can save your life.” Indeed.