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The Camel Bookmobile [Hardcover]

Masha Hamilton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 3 2007
Once a fortnight, the nomadic settlement of Madidima, set deep in the dusty Kenyan desert, awaits the arrival of three camels laden down with panniers of books. This is the Camel Bookmobile, a scheme set up to bring books to scattered tribes whose daily life is dominated by drought, famine and disease. Into their world comes an unexpected wealth of literature - from the adventures of Tom Sawyer to strange vegetarian cookbooks and Dr Seuss. Kanika, a young girl who lives with her grandmother, devours every book she can lay her hands on. Her best friend is Scar Boy, a child who was mauled at the age of three by a hyena. They are joined by Matani the village teacher, his alluring wife Jwahir and the drummaker Abayomi, as well as Mr Abasi, the camel driver, who is convinced that one of the camels is possessed by the spirit of his dead mother-in-law. The only condition of The Camel Bookmobile is that every book must be returned or else the visits will cease. Then one day a book is stolen...
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Product Details


Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Hamilton's captivating third novel (after 2004's The Distance Between Us) follows Fiona Sweeney, a 36-year-old librarian, from New York to Garissa, Kenya, on her sincere but naïve quest to make a difference in the world. Fi enlists to run the titular mobile library overseen by Mr. Abasi, and in her travels through the bush, the small village of Mididima becomes her favorite stop. There, Matani, the village teacher; Kanika, an independent, vivacious young woman; and Kanika's grandmother Neema are the most avid proponents of the library and the knowledge it brings to the community. Not everyone shares such esteem for the project, however. Taban, known as Scar Boy; Jwahir, Matani's wife; and most of the town elders think these books threaten the tradition and security of Mididima. When two books go missing, tensions arise between those who welcome all that the books represent and those who prefer the time-honored oral traditions of the tribe. Kanika, Taban and Matani become more vibrant than Fi, who never outgrows the cookie-cutter mold of a woman needing excitement and fulfillment, but Hamilton weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose with the lofty theme of Western-imposed "education" versus a village's perceived perils of exposure to the developed world. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—Fiona, a New York librarian filled with a sense of adventure and a desire to do good, heads to Kenya to run the camel bookmobile. She has long romanticized Africa, and she arrives determined but naive. Her most remote stop is Mididima, a seminomadic farming village with a makeshift school, led by Matani, who has studied in Nairobi but returned to educate his fellow villagers. Young Kanika, who wants to leave and study as well; the reclusive Scar Boy; and their families are among Fiona's patrons. When Scar Boy doesn't return the books he's borrowed, the overly rigid local librarian threatens to end the Mididima stop. Fiona, Matani, and Kanika each have stake in keeping the bookmobile coming, so they all try to get the boy to return them. However, he has his own compelling reason to keep them. All of the characters take a turn at narrating chapters, allowing readers to understand their place in the story more fully. Ultimately, each one is changed by the bookmobile, but not in ways that they (or we) might expect. Teens can enjoy not only the multicultural aspect of this novel but also the quiet drama and plot twists that impart the differences and similarities among the characters.—Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A "Camel" Bookmobile...Fantastic! Feb. 24 2011
By Louise Jolly TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Fiona Sweeney is a 36-year-old librarian from New York. She decides, somewhat naively, to move to Garissa, Kenya in Africa in the hope of educating the children and adults of small villages dotting the vast landscape through reading books and learning English. Of course, their current language is Swahili. Fiona receives help from Mr. Abasi and soon her mobile library becomes a reality, thanks to the `camels' who carry the books over the rugged terrain! As they set off, the village of Mididima becomes her favourite stop and there she meets a cast of characters you will come to love.

Written with humour, naivete, drama and wit, The Camel Bookmobile will be sure to brighten your day! It was one of those books that left me leaning my head back and smiling!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  35 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Wonderful Idea!! May 2 2007
By Amy Leemon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book succeeds on many different levels. The storyline is intriguing (imagine books being carried by camel to remote villages in Kenya), there's romance and disappointment, questions on different values in nations and whether its good for one nation to impose its values on another (you'll be thinking about that one for a while),a little mystery and a heroine who means well but manages to learn even while she's trying to educate others.

There really is a camel bookmobile and to read more about it and see photographs, google Camel Book Drive.

This is an exceptional book.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The gift of books is eternal May 2 2007
By Z Hayes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is such a lyrical and moving story about the power of books to transform one's life. Fiona Sweeney's efforts in bringing enlightenment and knowledge into the lives of people in the African bush is a story that is poetically beautiful and rings true. I myself remember the bookmobile that used to be the highlight of my young life back in Malaysia. There was a dearth of English books in the school library and to me, the bookmobile represented a window to a wonderful world full of possibilities. Masha Hamilton's book brings back those fond memories for me, and it is a joy to read how books still have the power to transport people, even in the most remote regions of the world, to a whole new world filled with infinite possibilities.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cultures Clash In The Camel Bookmobile May 23 2007
By LKRigel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Camel Bookmobile is the kind of novel that made me love reading in the first place. Fiona Sweeney travels from New York City to Africa to bring books on camels to villages that follow the rains. In this world, books are as threatening as they are liberating, and their mere presence causes a variety of personal reactions in the people the bookmobile "serves." Fi is drawn into these intrigues in little Mididima when she goes to help resolve a crisis over some missing books. The villagers are no blank slates waiting for the miracle of books -- she rides into a hotbed of desire, disappointment, genius, loss, and love.

Masha Hamilton's long experience reporting all over the world informs her work; her novels don't serve up tidy endings. Here she acknowledges the mundane reality that things do fall apart, but it is effort and intention that make the meaning of things. Cultures clash in The Camel Bookmobile, good intentions may be misplaced -- or not. Hamilton shows how seeds of change never grow in neat rows; and though the gardener may not be present at the harvest, it doesn't mean it was futile to lay the plants.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as expected Feb. 12 2010
By BooksatVioletCrush - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is inspired by the Camel Bookmobile Project in Kenya. The books are carried on Camels to remote areas in Africa where children have little or no source for books. Fi is a librarian from New York who volunteers for this project. She is looking for an escape, a life very different from her own.

Mididima is one of the villages in Kenya where this bookmobile visits. These are the villagers who have their set ways for years. They worship nature, they think they are cursed if it doesn't rain. They have ancient values and philosophies that have been carried down from generations. Obviously they are not too happy about the bookmobile. They think it will corrupt their childrens minds and show them a world which is above their reach, it will take away their traditions. But there are also children like Kanika and Scar Boy (who was attacked by a hyena when he was a toddler) who want to experience something different, who want to widen their horizons.

The author brings out the clash between the modern and the traditional world very well. We think the villagers would be thrilled to have an opportunity to read and learn, but we never think it will clash with their believes and culture.

This book has everything I love in a book, an African setting, lovely characters, beautiful writing, but there was something lacking in The Camel Bookmobile. I couldn't really get into the book for whatever reasons. It does get really interesting midway but again it disappoints at the end. There were important threads that were left open. I am okay with open endings but here it felt really abrupt.

Nonetheless, it is a book I would recommend.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Accomplished. June 9 2007
By Leslie Schaad - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I bought this book as a recommendation from a friend as he knew my interests and thought this would be perfect. I wasn't in the least bit disappointed. Hamilton unravels the tale of Fiona Sweeney, a modern librarian from the states, who has a mission and a goal: bringing education to the tribal peoples of Africa.

With multiple twists and turns to the plot that I didn't foresee when I first picked up the book, I was pleasantly surprised. Hamilton's writing is not only beautiful and captivating, but also brings forth a sense of importance. It's a book with awareness and a deep spiritual connection that left me with a 'united' feeling. I was both enamored and amused by the supporting cast, but also left with a feeling of kinship with Fi who has a strong belief in what she does. She's the type of woman who wont go down without a fight, strong but still emotional. She has a certain need to fulfill this mission and even when turned away, she is assertive and determined in her belief.

From the dusky, romantic setting of Africa to the sense of balance in Fi Sweeney's heart, this book was a delight. The awareness of the subject matter is brought into strong focus, yet still maintains a balance of wonderful writing. A true success.
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