________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover 52 Days by Camel: My Sahara Adventure. Rev. Ed.

Lawrie Raskin with Debora Pearson. Photography by Lawrie Raskin.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2008.
88 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $26.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-2-55451-136-5 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-2-55451-137-2.

Subject Headings:
Raskin, Lawrie, 1943- -Travel-Sahara-Juvenile literature.
Sahara-Description and travel-Juvenile literature.
Sahara-Juvenile literature.
Camels-Juvenile literature.
Africa, North-Social life and customs-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

*** /4


Every so often, the camel I was riding (whom I had nicknamed “Fred”) would turn his head around and stare disdainfully at me. I didn’t like it when Fred did this because camels are cud-chewers and have hideous breath. I soon discovered that a camel’s breath is so awful that you can actually smell one coming up from behind before you can see it! Of course, there are far worse fates than having a camel breathe on you—if a camel is really displeased with something you do, it sometimes spits, covering you in a goopy, green mess! I hoped that Fred wouldn’t try to do that with me!

Junior level readers will enjoy this true-life travel adventure that is told in a somewhat informal style as illustrated in the excerpt above. Raskin is a filmmaker and photographer who recounts his journey to fulfill his dreams of visiting the Sahara Desert and seeing the fabled city of Timbuktu and the ancient salt mines of Taoudenni. The catchy title, 52 Days by Camel, refers to a road sign in Arabic and French pointing toward Timbuktu and recording the distance as the number of days journey by camel. The original sign is reproduced along with many other excellent photographs (one showing a donkey hauling a television set is priceless, as is another showing a game of checkers with a board drawn in the sand and playing pieces consisting of twigs and camel dung), and it inspired Raskin to find a way to travel to the “mysterious” city that once was an important trading centre and the destination of camel caravans. Colour map illustrations show Raskin’s routes and include annotations highlighting landmarks and events described in the narrative. Much of the travel was by truck, bus or train, but he also experienced an eight day camel trip and traveled by river boat on the River Niger and taxi to reach Timbuktu. A jeep covered the distance from Timbuktu to Taoudenni in three days—a fraction of the 16 days that camels laden with salt blocks take to carry their cargo to the Niger for export.

internal art

     Many sidebars provide additional factual information about many aspects of civilization in North Africa. Readers will learn something about the Islamic faith, how local food is prepared, served and consumed, that the Sahara is not all flat and is largely covered in gravel or rock rather than sand, dangers in the desert, how to bargain with a merchant, the nature of a mirage, the story behind salt, the place of women in Arabic Africa, and, of course, facts about camels including how to climb onto them.

     The first edition of this book appeared in 1998 under the same title. The present edition is remarkably similar to the original, with most of the photographs and text remaining the same except for the replacement of the word Moslem(s) with Muslim(s). This edition eliminates a few photographs and some text that portrayed the area visited as somewhat backward or undeveloped, and, in their place, there are a few new photographs including a scene of the very modern city Casablanca, and photographs showing the adoption of modern technology such as satellite dishes, Global Positioning Systems for navigation, a row of colourful telephones in Marrakesh and an aircraft at the airport in Timbuktu. While the modern and traditional ways of life exist side-by-side, it is clear that the ancient ways are quickly being lost as the nomadic Tuaregs are increasingly forced to settle near cities for work and to try to adapt to modern ways. This edition has eliminated a page about life on a caravan (a way of life that verges on extinction) but added a brief list of English words that are derived from Arabic, a substantial index, and up-to-date lists of books and websites for further reading. Some of the websites include engaging video and audio clips. The index and reading list will make this book more useful for research projects, but the travel tale and colourful photographs will also make for delightful recreational reading.


Val Ken Lem is the Collection Evaluation Librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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