FICTION

The Camel in the Sun

illus. by Linda Wolfsgruber. 40p. Groundwood. 2013. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781554983810.
COPY ISBN
K-Gr 3—In stark descriptive language, Ondaatje eloquently retells a traditional Muslim hadith, chronicling the words and actions of Muhammad. For years, an uncomplaining camel carries loads of spices, dates, silver, and wool across the desert for the merchant Halim. The stoic beast endures unrelenting journeys, climbing steep dunes, wading through endless oceans of sand, and standing for hours under the hot sun. Oblivious to its plight and offering no sympathy, the merchant rides "on the camel's back as if he were floating over the desert on a bundle of valuable goods." The animal is weighed down by despair. It is certain that nothing will ever change until a fateful encounter in the city of Medina, the home of the Prophet. In one of the city's many gardens, Muhammad comes across the camel standing in the sun while its master naps comfortably in the shade. He immediately offers the sad creature a shoulder to cry on and reprimands the insensitive merchant, who at last sees their journey through the camel's eyes and tries to alleviate its suffering. Wolfsgruber's atmospheric monoprint illustrations deftly evoke the ancient desert society in which the camel and its master exist. The blazing heat is almost palpable in her arid desert landscapes executed in an appropriately dusty golden palette. For a cultural storyhour, pair this tale of compassion with Anita Ganeri's The Great Night Journey and Other Stories (QEB, 2007).—Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston, MA
A camel suffers under hard-driving master Halim. The Prophet Muhammad comforts the beast, and the camel weeps. Its tears "sifted into Halim's dream," and Halim too weeps and awakes filled with compassion. This tale "inspired by a hadith" (an "account of the Prophet's words or actions passed from generation to generation") resonates with universal meaning. The story is beautifully supported by desert-hued full-bleed monoprints.
This moving story about feeling compassion has universal implications. In his author’s note, Griffin Ondaatje reflects that most of us have “left a camel in the sun, whatever that ‘camel’ may be . . . maybe it is even a part of ourselves.” Lyrical prose captures the different realities of the camel and his master. While the “burning sun” beats down on the title character, Halim “[rides] on the camel’s back as if . . . floating over the desert.” Only when the Prophet intervenes and gives Halim a taste of the camel’s sadness, do the sun’s flames feel as “as sharp as pineapple leaves.” Linda Wolfsgruber suffuses her luminous illustrations with the light and heat of desert existence. During the day, empty stretches of sand invoke the oppressive repetition of the camel’s work. At night, a wash of stars, set against a navy sky, dazzles with its beauty but also testifies to the camel’s deep sense of loneliness. A helpful author’s note explains the story’s origins and the tradition of the hadith, “an account of the Prophet’s words or actions passed down from generation to generation.” Based on a Muslim tale about the Prophet Muhammad, A Camel in the Sun depicts a setting and culture not frequently seen in children’s literature.
An old camel suffers under a hard-

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