Once Upon a Camel

Once Upon a Camel
Age Range
Release Date
September 07, 2021
Buy This Book
“A delight to the senses.” —Kirkus Reviews

Perfect for fans of The One and Only Ivan, this exquisite middle grade novel from Newbery Honoree and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt follows a creaky old camel out to save two baby kestrel chicks during a massive storm in the Texas desert—filled with over a dozen illustrations by Caldecott winner Eric Rohmann.

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. She’s not, however, 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.

Editor review

1 review
A Camel in Texas?
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
What an exciting and sweet story about a crusty old camel and two baby chicks who brave the Texas wilderness in the early 1900s. ONCE UPON A CAMEL by Kathi Appelt is a historical novel told from the animal's perspective about a time when camels were shipped from their home in the middle east to the state of Texas.

This story follows Zada, an older camel full of stories from her days in Smyrna. She was racer, fought in wars, braved a mountain lion, and had so many adventures. Her greatest adventure was crossing the sea to a new land. But all of that was before. Now Zada is the last camel in Texas, wandering the desert alone until she finds two baby kestrels separated from their parents during a windstorm. Now Zada is on her biggest and most important adventure yet.

I absolutely loved Zada and the chicks. The chicks were exactly what you'd expect from children, constantly pestering each other and then immediately telling on the other one to Zada. She is a calming influence on them, regaling them with her stories and promising to help them find their way home. The story alternates from Zada's present to her past which is denoted at the beginning of the chapters with dates. It was interesting to see Zada's before and her now through her eyes and the eyes of the chicks. There are beautiful, hand drawn illustrations to accompany Zada's stories, bringing them to life on the page.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. The history behind camels coming to Texas (which I did not know before reading) and the whimsy of telling the story through the camel's eyes caught and held my attention. I appreciated that the author didn't shy away from harder vocabulary which will stretch younger readers knowledge and encourage them to learn new words. This one is sure to please readers who enjoy animal stories and history.
Good Points
-Found Family
-Challenging Read for age range
-Owning the good and bad of our history
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