Talking animal books are a beloved source of reading enjoyment for teens and preteens. ONCE UPON A CAMEL is one of those books but with a uniqueness that will attract many more readers.

First off are the characters. You won’t find the usual dog or cat but a wise old camel named Zada and two baby kestrels.

The story is set in the wide expanses of 1910 Texas. Zada enriches and entertains the kestrels with stories from her full life. Reconnecting them with their parents though is the main goal. The plot is based on a history many will find new to them as it did for me. Here’s the publisher background:

Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion.

But those stories were from before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

The kestrels are a noisy twosome often quarreling and full of questions about their parents. The stories Zada tells fascinates and refocuses them to a time in the past. Both important when you have two baby birds nesting on your head. The stories recount life in the 1800’s and her path to America. It was not a lonely one as she had a beloved camel friend, Asiye, always by her side.

The Texas desert is vividly presented with dust, wind, and the refreshing waters from the Rio Grande River. You’ll feel like you are along for the ride. 70 mostly short chapters and wonderful grayscale drawings add to the appeal of ONCE UPON A CAMEL.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: September 7, 2021 PAGE COUNT: 336


  1. What a great read aloud this will be both at home before bedtime or the few minutes at the end or beginning of a class.
  2. Camels were a great solution to the transportation problems in the West during the time during and after the Civil War. I learned much about how they were used and cared for through each story.
  3. The importance of storytelling has never been stronger. It weaves it’s magic spell over all who will listen.
  4. You always know where you are in the tale as each chapter is labeled with a year, whether it be 1910 or one from the 1800’s. Very helpful.
  5. A tender, loving tribute to these beautiful creatures. The equally beautiful ending brings the storytelling to a satisfying end.

The author takes advantage of the perfect seat to read this book… (The camel’s name is Richard and the photo was taken at Texas Camel Corps. Photo credit: Doug Baum)


Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.

Find Kathi Appelt on Facebook and Pinterest!

I also did a interview with Kathi back in 2018 which included many of her thoughts on writing for kids.


I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Comments are welcome below! Be sure to visit all the other MMGM bloggers.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to ONCE UPON A CAMEL

  1. One of my favorite books is Kathi Appelt’s True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, so I was really looking for to reading Once Upon a Camel, and your review may it sound even more enticing. Thanks for sharing and have a great week.

  2. Susan Wroble says:

    I love Kathi’s books, so this one will vault straight to the top of my reading list. Thanks!

  3. I didn’t know that camels were used to help settle the west. What a charming and fascinating story to tell. Animal lovers will really enjoy the camel’s story. It reminds me of the beaver story I reviewed a few weeks ago — I was so surprised to learn so much about beavers I didn’t know. Thank you for sharing!

  4. There you go tempting me with another talking-animal book. This sounds like a terrific book. I had heard there were camels in Texas, but I don’t know much about how they got there. I’m putting this one on my TBR list. Thanks for the review.

  5. Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    I just read your interview with Kathi Appelt—I really enjoyed her novel The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp a few years ago! This sounds like a wonderful new book from her—it’s not every day you see a camel as a protagonist. Thanks so much for the great review!

  6. Sounds interesting. I don’t know a whole lot about camels. I like the fact you mentioned that they were used during the Civil War. I love little historical tidbits like that!

  7. Kathi Appelt says:

    Greg–thank you so much! I’m so grateful for your careful and enthusiastic reading. And so glad that you enjoyed Zada’s many stories. It means the world to me.

  8. Pingback: This week’s round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy links (9/12/21) – Imobiliare 24

  9. Pingback: This week’s round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy links (9/12/21) – Book Library

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