Monday, January 27, 2014

Celebrate Multicultural Children's Book Day: The Camel in the Sun by Griffin Ondaatje, pictures by Linda Wolfsgruber

Today is Multicultural Children's Book Day, a day to celebrate diversity in children's books.  This is an event that is the brainchild of Mia, who blogs at Pragamtic Mom, and Valerie, who blogs at Jump Into a Book.  If you wish to find out more, please visit their blogs, where you will find suggestions for how to celebrate Multicultural Children's Book Day at home or in the classroom, and a list of the bloggers who are participating in this wonderful event.
Why do we need a Multicultural Childrens's Book Day?
Mission: Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.
I have always tried to review books that reflect the diversity not just of the population, but of the world and I will continue to do so.  The book I chose for today comes from Islamic tradition and I like the message about learning to have compassion and empathy for others, whether animal or human.

The old camel belonging to the merchant Halim had worked hard for him, carrying both the merchant and his large, heavy bundles filled with all sorts of goods long distances back and forth across the desert.  Halim never stopped to let the camel rest, and at the end of the day, he forced it to run to reach a place where he might sell his goods.  The camel often was left exhausted, breathless and thirsty in the hot sun while the merchant carried out his business in the shade.

One day, as they were traveling across the desert, the camel began to to feel water in his eyes and when he realized that he was weeping, he just came to a stop in the middle of the desert.  The merchant to his camel that the slower he walked, the longer it would take to get a drink.

The camel learned to keep its sad feelings to itself, except at night when the merchant slept.

One day, they came to Medina, a beautiful city of gardens where it was said that the Prophet lived.  Halim tied the camel up in the hot sun and went to sit in the shade with other men.  The merchant had water, dates and conducted business, than lay down in the shade for a nap, leaving the camel in the sun.

The Prophet happened to be out for a walk and saw the sleeping merchant in the shade and the camel in the sun, still carrying large bundles on his back.  The Prophet went to the camel and offered it his shoulder to lean on.  The camel sighed and tears started to fall, tears that then turned up in Halim dream and suddenly the merchant was seeing through the camel's eyes, seeing his tiredness, his sadness, his loneliness, feeling the hot sun and the camel's pain.

The Prophet looks at the merchant and asks if he can feel the camel's sadness, then walks away.

The Camel in the Sun is a story about compassion and empathy.  It is written in easy to understand language so these concepts won't get lost on younger readers and because it is about a camel and a merchant, it distances itself from young readers just enough for them to clearly see the importance of these ideas.

There is a note at the beginning of the book that says that in keeping with Islamic tradition, the Prophet is not pictured anywhere in the story.  And yet, when he is with the camel, you can, without question, feel his presence.  The first time I read The Camel in the Sun, I didn't see this note, yet I never realized that the Prophet wasn't pictured.

Perhaps that is due to the cleverness of the illustrator, Linda Wolfsgruber.  Her monoprints done in dusty shades of browns, tans, olive greens and orange give not only the feeling of a hot parched desert, but also the cool, shaded lushness of Medina.

In his Author's note, Griffin Ondaatje writes that he first heard the story of the tired camel along with other stories about compassion in 1994 while doing research in Sri Lanka.  Later, he learned it was a hadith, which he defines as an "account of the Prophet's words or actions passed down from generation to generation."

I do have one complaint.  Sometimes the text is set against a dark background making it hard to read and since this is an ideal bedtime read aloud, when lights are generally not as bright as usual, it makes it difficult to see.  Otherwise, this is indeed a wonderful story.

And, though this is a story from Islamic tradition, it is a story with a message from which we can all learn and benefit, regardless of our beliefs.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. Hello Alex ! Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful book The Camel in the Sun. It's definitely going on my list to read. I'm so happy that you're celebrating Multicultural Children's Book Day with us. Thanks also for sharing your great insights on children's literature in general.

    1. Thanks, Valerie, I was very excited when I read about Multicultural Children's Book Day and didn't want to miss being a part of such an important event. And thank you and Mis for hosting it.

  2. Wow, there really are some fascinating multicultural books out there, when you dig deep enough, aren't there? What an interesting one this sounds to be. So glad to have seen your link at the Multicultural Children's Book Day event.

    1. Thanks for stopping in, Julie. I am also going to visit as many blogs as I can today. I am always curious to see what bloggers have read and talked about and to find new and intersting books.

  3. Wow. I want to read this right now, after reading your review. It sounds beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Happy #MCKLitDay!
    ~Cool Mom
    for The Stanley & Katrina Gang

    1. Thanks. And thanks for participating in #MCKLit Day, too. We have discovered so many good books today, I think.

  4. This looks beautiful, thank you!

  5. Thank you so much for joining us for Multicultural Children's Book Day Alex! We really appreciate your support and your review of this beautiful book!


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