“It presents what for many North American readers might have been a distant, exotic, and pitiable world as a place in which young school children like themselves discover what they like and can do well, and dream of developing those qualities for the future.” —Lidwien Kapteijns, African Access
Muktar lives in an orphanage on the border of Kenya and Somalia. He daydreams about his old life with his family and especially tending to camels. One day, visitors arrive bearing books, and Muktar’s friend Ismail is excited; so is Muktar, but for a different reason—the visitors are riding on camels. Muktar quickly discovers that one of the animals is injured and realizes this is his chance to prove himself. If there is anything Muktar knows, it is camels. Through the eyes of an endearing protagonist whose love and respect for animals shines, this beautifully told story introduces young readers to another part of the world and way of life.
Reviews & Accolades
“Mack uses textured oil paints to portray the story’s quiet scenes in classroom, schoolyard, and simple buildings; but, mostly, he focuses on the boys and the camels. His naturalistic illustrations have a warm sensitivity; these are good men and fine youngsters. These are also informative pictures of a faraway land and people. Readers may speculate on the different choices made by the two boys. Maps and a note on the current situation in Somalia and Kenya are included.” —Children’s Literature
“…While many books offer a view of third-world cultures, they often mirror our own values and concerns…Graber’s story offers an anthropologist’s appreciation for Somali nomadic culture without westernizing Muktar. Muktar longs to live the life that is in his blood, and Graber tells his story well, though the simple maps and the brief historical context come at the end of the book or on the endpapers. Mack’s oil-on-canvas paintings evoke the sun and dust of Kenya, giving readers an impression of the landscape.”—Lisa Egly Lehmuller, School Library Journal
“The author tells the story succinctly and without any audience-limiting brutality about the war that has orphaned Muktar...Muktar’s enthusiasm, knowledge and talent with camels will attract young readers, and the story of the unusual delivery system will engage those who delight in knowing that children everywhere benefit from free library services.” —Kirkus Reviews
“…The book, written for children of the same age as (or a bit younger than) the protagonists, is based on an existing service the National Library of Kenya provides for areas surrounding the regional capital of Garissa. It celebrates the aspirations of both boys, putting his camel-herding skills to good use in the case of Mukhtar, while Ismail wants to read and study. It is written with sensitivity and has beautiful illustrations, whose soft lines invoke the dusty landscape of NFD…It presents what for many North American readers might have been a distant, exotic, and pitiable world as a place in which young school children like themselves discover what they like and can do well, and dream of developing those qualities for the future.” —Lidwien Kapteijns, African Access
Family death, cultural traditions, building futures, education
I feel no particular restrictions writing about a culture other than my own. As an immigrant and traveler, I’ve always considered myself a world citizen. As a writer I feel strongly that children deserve recognition, respect and understanding and if I can provide a window into children’s lives around the world through books and pictures, so much the better.
The inspiration for Muktar and the Camels began when I read a newspaper article about the Kenya National Library Service using camels to deliver books to camps and orphanages in the wastelands of Northern Kenya. What intrigued me was not only the distribution of books, but also the children involved. I knew the Somali people were direct descendents of camel herders; that they developed a rich Islamic culture and self-sustaining nomadic lifestyle. As the story took root I wanted to focus on the loss of this meaningful nomadic life. I got to know the camels at my local zoo. How they moved; the texture of their coats; how they smelled; how they chewed. Through films I was able to capture the sound of the camels moving through sand.
I was ready now to imagine a young Somali boy struggling to find his place in the world. Who was he? Where had he come from? What happened to his family? What did he want most in the world? How would he accomplish his goal?
I pondered these questions for a long time and gradually Muktar began to share with me memories of his nomadic life in Somalia with his beloved family, and his great love of camels before events completely destroyed his centuries old way of life. He was a dreamer. He loved camels. It was vital for him to make some connection with the life he had lost. And I knew his need lay with the well-being of the camels. I had my story at last.
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