fiction favorites…Mysterious Traveler

mysterious traveler cover imageMysterious Traveler, by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

There were five riders but six camels, traveling fast. Desperately fast. They were being chased, hunted. But because of the fading light and the dust thrown up by the camels’ feet, they could not tell how close their pursuers were.
The camel without a rider was named Jin-Jin. He was fierce and quick-tempered and very intelligent, which was why he carried the travelers’ most precious item of baggage. It was hidden in a woven basket, and Jin-Jin carried it as carefully as he could.
The riders were racing through a low and rocky valley when Jin-Jin sensed a new danger…His clever nostrils read it in the air, and he roared a warning, digging his huge feet into the ground…Behind them, the evening sky was now a boiling wall of sand and dust like a tidal wave.
A desert storm.

I would like to coax you to read this book without giving away its many enticing mysteries! From these opening lines, we’re already confronted with many mysterious traveller illustration from pjlynchgalleryintoxicating questions:

Who are these riders?
Are they good guys? Or mischief makers?
Why are they being hunted?
What precious treasure lies in the basket?
Will the camel-riders escape the hunters, or perish in the storm?

Exotic desert winds and the muffled sound of bells on camels’ harnesses waft from the pages of this marvelous story, transport us from the bitter January weather we’ve been having, to scorching, arid places. Here we meet Issa, a wise, gray-bearded desert guide, and Mariama, a kind-hearted young girl with a mysterious past. We ride over heat-shimmering sands and shelter in rocky clefts and ancient canvas tents. By the end of our tale, we’ve discovered the answers to all of our questions plus a few more that crop up along the way, with the curtain closing on a well-watered, glittering palace. 

mysterious traveler illustration p.j. lynch from walker dot co dot ukI loved this beautifully-written story, which lies somewhere between a picture book and a chapter book. I suppose I am partial to West African settings, but the evocative language and rich characters who reminded me of people I met in Guinea and Mali wooed me like a cup of spiced tea. 

P.J. Lynch’s outstanding paintings sweep us into the dusty landscapes and barren spaces of the Sahara, and bring Issa to life in all his thin, weathered, mahogany glory.

This is another of my favorites from 2013 which I highly recommend for a short read-aloud for ages 6 and up.