Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 9781534406438

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or starred review) 4

Format: Paperback ARC

Genre: Animal stories

What did you like about the book? Zada is a camel in West Texas with a big story to tell. One day in 1910 a haboob (large dust storm) sends her and her American kestrel family fleeing to safety, but in the process, the kestrel babies Beulah and Wims get separated from their parents, Perlita and Pard. Zada uses her navigational skills to keep the kestrel babies safe. She also uses her storytelling prowess to calm them down. And the story she has to tell! Zada spins a tale of camels born in Turkey and raised to be racing camels for a wealthy Turkish pasha. Zada and her best friend Asiye (“the A to the Z”) are lovingly cared for by Teodor who calls them “gȕzel develer” (beautiful camels). Eventually the camels are gifted to the United States in 1856 where they are used to help build the American West and then set free into the desert. The novel alternates between  Zada’s story and the baby chicks trying to survive the haboob and find their kestrel parents. The details of the West Texas environment and the dangerous storm make this story fascinating. The book is well-paced and Zada is a wonderful main character. Includes fabulous  illustrations by Eric Rohmann; Wims and Beulah are the cutest birds I’ve ever seen! Also includes a glossary of Turkish phrases and information about the real camels of Texas. 

Anything you did not like about the book? I had a hard time getting into it at first, but then I loved the story!

To whom would you recommend this book? Animal lovers and anyone who loves beautiful storytelling. This would make a fabulous read aloud. Grades 2+

Who should buy this book? Most elementary libraries and some middle schools

Where would you shelve it? Fantasy or animal stories depending on your collection

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA

Date of review: September 30, 2021

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