Title: Camel Caravan
Author: Arthur Catherall
Major Themes: Africa, Camels, Desert, Mali, Sahara Desert, Timbuktoo
Synopsis: When he unexpectedly gets a baby camel just before the caravan is to travel across the Sahara Desert, Youba can’t bear the thought of losing his new pet.
Over 21 years ago, before I was married, I taught at a small Christian school for a couple of years. I sometimes read books from the school library. Three of the books I read were by Arthur Catherall. I can’t remember what one of them was titled, but know I really liked all three. About 10 years later, I finally found one of the other two, Camel Caravan, at a secondhand shop. I bought it and gave it to one of my sons for his birthday. It’s been a favorite ever since.
Camel Caravan tells the story of two children who are with their father in Taoudenni, a place where salt is harvested in the Sahara Desert in the north part of Mali. They are about to leave with the salt caravan for Timbuktoo—but, unexpectedly, their favorite camel has a baby. A baby camel is always welcome—but now? The baby can’t walk across the desert with the caravan! What will the children do? Youba’s father had told him the next baby camel to be born would be his, so this is his first camel; he can’t leave the little one to die! Finally, his father agrees to leave Youba and his sister Fedada with their uncle to come with the next caravan, in a week.
The children work hard to strengthen Amr’r, the new baby, but the little fellow still lags. An old man with only one camel helps them with their pet—but then he hurts his foot. And then, early in the morning, bandits attack. What will the children do when they find themselves separated from the rest of the caravan? Have they made a fatal mistake by taking the time to help the old man, who was also left behind, injured?
This is such a unique story! I can’t think of another book that talks about Timbuktoo as a real place, and very few, if any, that take place in the Sahara Desert. The story is worth reading for the setting alone, but the theme of the story is very good, too. The love and care shown by the characters for each other is very natural, as is the struggle to show that love and care. There is a scene towards the end with a big surprise, that changes some things completely. You will be as taken aback as Youba was when he saw what happened! Camel Caravan is a great story for boys, but girls also love it; after I gave the original copy to one of my boys and read it aloud to him (and the others), my daughter snatched up the copy she found at another secondhand shop. I would sure love to get my hands on some other books by this author!
WARNING: The raiders attack in chapter 7, and in chapter 13 they threaten to sell Fedada as a slave.
Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9, 8 – 12