September 23, 2013

The Camel in the Sun

by Griffin Ondaatje
Illustrated by Linda Wolfsgruber
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
October 2013

Imagine the oppressive, unrelenting heat of the desert east of the Red Sea, and the heavy, cumbersome weights of spices, silk, silver, wool and such that a camel has been forced to carry year after year for a merchant who disregards his beast of burden, only focusing on reaching his destinations so that he may rest in the shade and become more prosperous. 

Not surprising that, after many, many years of such toil and hardship, a camel would become overwhelmed by the sadness of his situation, shedding tears for the futility of his life and his suffering, both past and yet to endure. The merchant witnesses the tears but chastizes the camel for wasting time and keeping himself away from the water the camel requires.

A chance encounter with the Prophet gives the camel the emotional and physical support to release his sadness, trembling in heaving waves of unhappiness against the Prophet's shoulder.  But as the camel sobs, his tears enter the dreams of the merchant who sleeps in the cool shade just steps away from the camel tethered in the hot sun.  When the merchant awakens from his grief-stricken sleep filled with tears and heartache, the Prophet simply asks, "Can't you see that the camel is sad?"  Yes, he finally can.

Inspired by a traditional Muslim hadith–an account of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings–Griffin Ondaatje (yes, son of Michael Ondaatje) simply and eloquently conveys the lesson that empathy has value in making respectful connections between living things, resulting in greater peace and contentment.  The text of The Camel in the Sun is appropriately subdued, never rushed but epitomizes the plodding burdens, physical and emotional, endured by the camel. The illustrations by Austrian Linda Wolfsgruber complement the very essence of this retelling of the hadith, conveying the vastness of the world and its overwhelming nature while still emphasizing the importance of compassion on a one-to-one scale.  Respectfully, the Prophet is never illustrated and the faces of both the merchant and camel are ambiguous, allowing the reader to extend the message in The Camel in the Sun–empathy as the foundation of all positive relationships–to all living things, human and otherwise.

1 comment:

  1. I love stories about camels and the desert. This one has a strong message as well. I will be picking up a copy for me and the little people in my life.