School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Determined to catch a pair of tourists in the act of illegally purchasing ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, Ayisha and her twin brother, Ahmed, embark on a risky entrapment scheme that takes them on a harrowing trip into the Sahara desert and down the Niger River. Although he’s only 12, Ahmed is already an accomplished linguist who makes needed money for his family by guiding tourists around that fabled city. As a proper Muslim girl, Ayisha would not normally meet such strangers, but she is clever and determined, finding a way to be included in one of his jobs. Ayisha is the focus of this third-person narrative, but because the author needs to introduce so much of Malian culture to her readers, the girl must notice and comment on much that she would normally take for granted. Through her eyes and Ahmed’s explanations, readers learn a great deal about their world. Kessler’s own travels inform the narrative, but teens will appreciate the survival adventure as much as the unique setting. A glossary of words and phrases in French, Arabic, and Tamashek is appended.
–Kathleen Isaacs, Towson University, MD
Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books
Set in contemporary Mali, this novel follows thirteen-year-old twins Ayisha and Ahmed on their quest to protect their country’s national treasures from a conniving pair of American tourists. When Ahmed first meets Griff and Trudy, he senses that something is amiss: they are a little too interested in having Ahmed tour them around museums and libraries in Timbuktu where they might see ancient manuscripts; in fact they’re trying to buy some, despite the fact that it’s a crime to remove such historical treasures from the country. Ahmed reports his encounter back to sister Ayisha, and soon the pair are off on a mission not only to stop the Americans from getting their hands on any manuscripts but to ensure they are caught in the act of purchasing, so as to ensure their punishment as a deterrent to other speculators. The story gains momentum slowly, and it may be awhile before the readers understand the significance of the manuscripts, but once the it gets rolling, it is a wild and wonderful adventure through the mysterious city of Timbuktu, the dangerous expanse of Sahara Desert, and the bustling energy of a distant nomadic encampment. Ahmed and Ayisha are a formidable pair, and readers will enjoy problem-solving along with the sibs as they dig themselves deeper and deeper into the investigation, running into boundless danger at every turn. Kessler (author of Our Secret, Siri Aang) has created a world rich in cultural detail, and there is abundant cross-genre appeal; the novel is at once an adventure, a mystery, a family story, an exploration of a distant culture, a study in gender in the Muslim society, and an examination of the elemental questions of right and wrong. An author’s note and several glossaries are included.
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Gr 1-3-Lalibela is a mountain town in Ethiopia, known for its production of fine honey. Kessler’s story features Almaz, a plucky girl who wishes to take on the traditionally male work of beekeeping. The men laugh when she can’t climb a tall tree to fetch down a woven hive, except for Father Haile Kirros, who encourages her. In a few months, she returns to the marketplace, just as she had sworn to do, with very fine honey. Jenkins follows the ups and downs of Almaz’s labor in deep-hued, mixed-media scenes spread richly across double pages. Focusing on the characters and their activities, the artist washes colors in broad layers for his background, sometimes adding chalky swirls resembling children’s sidewalk drawings. Text blocks on some pages are simply set against the scene in white or black print, but other times they’re set on irregular cream-colored shapes that almost appear to be speech balloons. Though the added elements are a bit cluttered, the art handsomely conveys the African setting. Kessler includes well-chosen details about the beekeeping project and a few words from the local Amharic and Tigringna languages. Easily understood in the text, they appear in a concluding glossary with an author’s note on the village and its legendary name. Almaz’s conclusion that “Life is sweet” is well earned, and readers will cheer her determination and good sense in realizing her dream.
-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Review from School Library Journal …more reviews
Grade 4-8-While gathering firewood in the bush, 12-year-old Namelok stumbles upon a pregnant rhino and watches her give birth. She names the baby Siri Aang (“Our Secret”), vowing to keep the animals’ existence hidden.She is a curious and courageous character, caught between the values of a nomadic culture and a more sedentary modern society. Because of the wealth of descriptive detail, readers will easily envision the Kenyan landscape and be caught up in the suspense of this intriguing survival story. The cultural dilemmas of the Maasai should stimulate discussion. While the small rhino’s story ends happily, youngsters can only hope that Namelok and her family can negotiate the changes in their lives as successfully.
-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Starred review, School Library Journal …more reviews
What makes this book both exquisite and heartbreaking is the combination of beautifully, but simply expressed poetic prose that demonstrates a deep understanding of the orphaned calf and sensitive, skillful illustrations that show the poignancy of Jubela’s sorrow and bewilderment and the vibrancy of African plains life…All people who care about their fellow creatures will find a powerful lesson here.
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Clear text and outstanding full-color photographs tell the remarkable and encouraging story of Swaziland’s determined effort to restock its plains and forests with native wildlife.
No Condition is Permanent – Book Review
By Tonia Lovejoy
Some books leave you in suspense, while others beckon you in a voice unknown – each can be called a ‘page turner’. No Condition is Permanent is truly a ‘page turner’ – both suspenseful and beckoning. The main character, Jodie, will capture your heart and feed your imagination with her honest and insightful observations, raising the question, how would I act if thrust in Jodie’s shoes? Author Cristina Kessler is more than believable, her language and imagery is all-encompassing. A wonderful read for any age, particularly perfect for sparking critical conversations about how we perceive the other, and how we resolve to be good global citizens, no matter where we live.
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Grade 7 Up-Jodie Nichols, 14, leaves California and accompanies her mother, a former Peace Corps volunteer, on her return to her old village in Sierra Leone to do fieldwork. The simple life, without modern conveniences and modern choices, turns out to be difficult and strenuous.
The setting of this story comes alive; the early vivid jumble of details of sights and smells sorts itself out into a careful, clear description of a vibrant culture. Yet, the conclusion, which will satisfy readers, is too simplistic for the issue; Khadi later writes that she and her friends will not continue the age-old practice on their daughters. There is much to appreciate in this sensitively drawn picture of a faraway part of the world and readers will be left with much to think about in terms of cultural relativity.
-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC
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Grade 2-4- A delightful story about keeping old traditions while accepting those that are new. The well-written story generates a warm feeling as Fatima’s grandmother speaks of the olden days and her granddaughter is able to learn and appreciate the ways of her elders. The impressionistic oil paintings are vivid and detailed, greatly enhancing the story. A wonderful book to bring generations together or to learn about different cultures.
–Tammy K. Baggett, Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library, GA
Review from BOOKSHELF for Young Readers, Los Angeles Times …more reviews
The best picture books are those that match compelling stories with dynamic illustrations. It’s a rare combination, but it’s one to be found in Konte Chameleon, Fine, Fine Fine! … Kessler’s retelling makes such good use of odd, lyric sounds and repetitve language that it’s almost impossible not to read – or sing – the story aloud.
Review from Publishers Weekly …more reviews
In a striking first-person voice, debut picture-book author Kessler’s text mingles the proud self-assurance of the Tuareg with their reverence for Allah and nature. Schoenherr’s (America Alive: A History) page-spread watercolors, with their deep-toned backgrounds and often spare images, evoke the cultural nuances of the “blue people”. Ages 4-8.