Monday, March 31, 2014

Mysterious traveller by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Twice each term the wonderful NSW School Magazine arrives in my library. There are four different editions and I always turn the pages to read the Bookshelf pages first.

This month one featured book is Mysterious Traveller.  I think the mark of a great story comes from a very satisfying ending and you will certainly find one in this book.

Issa earns his meager living working as a desert guide.  He awakes one morning and sees signs that all is not well.  "On this particular morning, however, the bottom edge of the sun was not as bright as usual.  Blurry. Veiled.  Issa squinted at it, then took a deep breath of the cold desert wind, testing it smell with his nose... he turned to go back to his house.  It was time for his prayers.  Then he stopped.  A flash of bright colour had tickled his eye.  A scrap of cloth fluttering from the thorn fence of his goat-pen... the pattern told him this. The ribbon had travelled a long way. And it was not the kind of thing that anyone would lose or throw away."

Issa heads out into the desert with his old donkey and half buried under the sands near a cliff he finds a camel.  While he tries to coax the camel back up onto its feet he hears a tiny cry.  A young child lies in a woven basket protected by the camel.  "This child, this baby, had huge black pearls for eyes.  Her body was wrapped in finest, softest cotton.  Something made from gold hung from a cord around her neck. something the shape of half a star. There were letters hammered into the gold, but Issa could not make sense of them."

I hope you can tell from these two quotes that not a word is wasted in this exquisite book.  Issa takes the baby girl , whom he names Mariama, and cares for her as though she were his own grandchild.  As his eyesight begins to fade, Mariama becomes his eyes.  All is well until one day when three strangers arrive at his door.  One of the men is clearly the leader or important one "and if Issa had been able to see, he might have recognized the pattern in the embroidery that trimmed his robes."

After reading this book you should also look for Cloud Tea Monkeys also by Mal Peet.

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