Camel Rider, first published in Australia in 2004, was published in its first US edition in 2007, making it eligible to be considered for the Cybil Award for Middle Grade Fiction. And it’s been nominated.
I read the book a couple of weeks ago. It’s set in a fictional city, Abudai, that’s “typical of any one of the many oil-rich states in the Arabian Gulf.” The two main characters, Adam and Walid, are both both non-natives of Abudai. Adam is the spoiled son of an Australian pilot who has a job working for Abudai Airlines. Walid is a Bangladeshi boy, sold into virtual slavery to become a camel rider for a man called Old Goat and his partner Breath of Dog. (You’ve got to like those names, or nicknames. Walid doesn’t have a real name; according to the book, “walid” means boy.)
When war comes to Abudai, Adam and Walid are both lost in the desert. They find each other and manage to communicate despite their lack of a common language. So, Camel Rider is basically a survival story with a little bit of multicultural understanding mixed in. And coming of age, growing up. The most interesting parts of the book deal with the misunderstandings that come about when Adam and Walid try to work together to escape the desert and avoid Walid’s captors who think they own him. The differences in cultural norms, which could have been laughable had the two boys not been in such a critical situation, become a microcosm of the worldwde misunderstandings and differences that cause war between countries.
I’m a little tired of reading about spoiled rotten kids who eventually turn out to save the day or win the prize or something else great. (Code Orange by Caroline Cooney, Spelldown by Karen Luddy) Rotten kids thrown into crisis don’t always rise to the occasion. Sometimes, they crash. Nevertheless, the adventure part of Camel Rider, when Adam, who’s nearly thirteen years old, grows up and begins to act like a fairly responsible kid, is engaging, and there’s the added advantage of learning something about the customs and culture of the Arabian pennisula in a relatively painless way. Then, of course, without the plot device of Adam’s irresponsibly running away at a critical moment, there would be no story.
Camel Rider was nominated for the Cybil Award by Kristen of pixie stix kids pix (say that fast three times), and although I searched her site for a review, I couldn’t find one. If you’ve reviewed the book, please leave a comment, and I’ll link.