The Prophet Muhammad bridges a gap between a weary old camel and its heedless master in this version of a passed-down Muslim hadith.
The tale is so respectful that no image of Muhammad appears in its illustrations, and the author dubs it “inspired” by the original rather than translated or retold. It takes a sad, sighing camel through many years of carrying heavy burdens across Arabian deserts for the merchant Halim—until a stopover at Medina, during which Halim, as is his habit, leaves it standing in the sun while he naps in the shade. Seeing the camel in distress the Prophet compassionately lends it a shoulder to lean on, whereupon the tears it weeps enter Halim’s dreams and spark like compassion in him from then on. Adding spare, scratchy lines to monoprints done in subdued earth tones, Wolfsgruber focuses more on capturing a sense of the camel’s bone-deep exhaustion than on the details of each desert and courtyard scene. Ondaatje’s efforts to establish a sense of place founder on his reference to sun’s flames “as sharp as pineapple leaves,” (pineapple is a New World plant), but he portrays Halim as oblivious rather than actively cruel, which will make it easier for young readers to see his thoughtlessness reflecting their own.
A lesson in empathy—for animals but also in general—delivered at a pace as stately as a camel’s. (afterword) (Picture book. 6-9)