Sunday, August 22, 2021

Review: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

Anyone who follows Bookworm for Kids diligently...and I'm going to say 'Wow! Thank you!' to those individuals...might have noticed that I did a switch-a-roo, and today's review now hits that book I pushed back. I thank everyone, who was looking forward to this one, for their patience. This one is worth the wait, by the way. 

But go ahead and read further to see why I say that...

by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Atheneum Books
Middle Grade Animal Fantasy
336 pages
ages 8 to 12


An old camel is out to save two baby kestrel chicks during a massive storm in the Texas desert.

Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion.

But those stories were from before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.



I always am a fan of little known historical events being brought to life, and this one does exactly that. Masterfully.

Zada is a camel, the last camel in Texas around 1910. Her herd has long disappeared, and she now hangs around with her 'family' of birds. When they tell her a huge mountain is swallowing everything up, she realizes the danger for what it is—a huge dust storm. During their attempt to flea, the bird mom and dad get swept away by the wind, leaving Zada with their two chicks. She swears she'll protect them and get them to the Mission, where they can find water and shelter. But this might be a bigger adventure than she can handle.

This is such a lovely read. A really enjoy Zada, and the author has done a great job on bringing her across in a way young readers are sure to enjoy. She's wise, and her thoughts and decisions are easy for readers to understand. Her determination to save the baby chicks makes her hard not to root for. And her friends are adorable.

Tension runs high in these pages as Zada faces various dangers and does her best to keep the chicks safe, and all of these are appropriate for the intended age group. But this story isn't ony about determination and fun adventure. There is a lot of history. The author swipes the reader across the world to Zada's birth place and let's the foreign desert unfold as well as the sea journey to reach Texas. And, of course, there's Texan history, too. These moments are brought across in the stories Zada tells the chicks to keep the calm. The author keeps the reader from growing confused not only through the different characters, but each chapter starts with the date. While I'm not always a fan of flashbacks, they flow well and enrich the tale step by step.

The writing fits the age group well, too, and even suits the younger side of the middle grade audience. There are lovely illustrations sprinkled throughout the tale, which are a treat and add a change-up from the text.

This one is definitely worth a read and will delight more than animal fans.

And here they are...

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampMaybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max Attacks. She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband. Visit her at

Eric Rohmann is the Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator of My Friend Rabbit and received a Caldecott Honor for Time Flies. He has both written and illustrated numerous books for children, including Bulldozer’s Big Day, Honeybee, and most recently Bulldozer’s Christmas Dig, all written by Candace Fleming. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois.

1 comment:

Heather N. Quinn said...

What a sweet premise! And the cover is lovely too!