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Camel Rider

Camel Rider

by Prue Mason

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War has broken out in the Middle East and all foreigners are fleeing. Instead of escaping with his neighbors, Adam sneaks off to save his dog, which has been left behind. Lost in the desert, Adam meets Walid, an abused camel boy who is on the run. Together they struggle to survive the elements and elude the revengeful master from whom Walid has fled. Cultural and


War has broken out in the Middle East and all foreigners are fleeing. Instead of escaping with his neighbors, Adam sneaks off to save his dog, which has been left behind. Lost in the desert, Adam meets Walid, an abused camel boy who is on the run. Together they struggle to survive the elements and elude the revengeful master from whom Walid has fled. Cultural and language barriers are wide, but with ingenuity and determination the two boys bridge their differences, helping each other to survive and learn what true friendship is.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This riveting survival tale set in the Arabian Gulf-author Mason's first novel-has two boys from very different cultures trying to find their way out of the desert wilderness. Adam is an Australian boy living with his family in the (fictional) Middle Eastern city of Abudai. Both of his parents are away when war breaks outside his compound. Adam manages to escape with neighbors, but he flees his rescuers, attempting to retrieve his dog. Meanwhile, an Arab boy sold into slavery to become a camel rider has been left to die in the mountains by cruel masters displeased with his rebellious behavior ("Once I had another name. But only in my dreams now I am remembering my life in my home country.... Now I answer to Walid, which means only 'boy' "). The paths of the two boys inevitably cross: though they do not speak the same language, they learn to rely on each other to find food and shelter and to ward off enemies as they travel back to civilization. Some plot details seem scripted, such as when a milking goat suddenly appears as the boys are on the brink of starvation and when Walid's master gets hold of Adam's cell phone and learns there is a reward for the boy's recovery. Nonetheless, teens will stay on the edge of their seats to find out how and when Adam and Walid will reunite with their loved ones. Ages 10-14. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Gail C. Krause
Set in a fictitious city that sounds very real, this middle-grade novel is a fast- paced, exciting read that should appeal to a wide variety of readers. The main character, Adam, is an Australian boy living in the Middle East in a fenced compound with other international families. Unfortunately, he outsmarts himself when he slips his passport into his father's luggage, in an effort to stay in the compound with his friends and his beloved dog, Tara, instead of visiting his sister and grandmother back home. He does not expect a war to break out in the city and for all foreigners to be expected to leave. But Adam cannot go without his passport. Ultimately, he hops a ride with a neighbor, but the man refuses to take Tara. Again Adam tries to manipulate his situation, this time by slipping out of the car and planning walk back to the compound. This is not his last mistake. In the desert, Adam meets Walid, a boy whose captors left him there bound and alone. The two begin a perilous journey through the desert trying to escape the heat, the slave traders and the camel owners. Each hopes to be rescued by the other. Though they do not speak the same language, they communicate as boys do, and communication between two cultures is exemplified by the pair. The story is thus told from two perspectives, each describing the same action with the typeface differentiating each point of view. This approach helps draw the reader into the story.
School Library Journal

Gr 6-8
In the midst of a short war in a country on the Arab peninsula, 12-year-old Adam, an Australian expatriate who does not want to return home, and Walid, a camel rider from Bangladesh, manage to elude Walid's former employers and survive in the harsh desert, although they lack a common language or culture. Adam's mother has gone home to Australia, and the boy is to follow the next day when his dad, a pilot, arrives from a trip. When the bombs begin to fall, he runs away from neighbors who attempt to take him across the border to safety. Walid, who had been sold by his mother, who hoped for something better for him, was left tied up in the mountains after accidentally causing the death of a camel. The alternating first-person voices, set off typographically, reveal the depth of the boys' cultural differences and their growing ability to communicate, understand, and respect one another. The harshness of the desert is clear, as is Adam's ignorance and unpreparedness. Readers who may first identify with the fun-loving Adam will come to appreciate Walid's skills and determination, and may learn something about Muslim ways in the process. The suspense is sustained and the wildly improbable happy ending is very satisfying. Some readers may not appreciate the number of times "acting like a girl" is a derogatory phrase, but this is solid survival adventure.
—Kathleen IsaacsCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
First-novelist Mason makes an auspicious debut with this Australian import about two boys from disparate cultures who form a bond under harrowing circumstances. Twelve-year-old Australian Adam, and his parents live in a housing compound for foreigners in a fictional Middle-Eastern country. When war breaks out suddenly, Adam is alone and must evacuate with neighbors. He eludes them in a desperate effort to return to rescue his dog. Meanwhile, young "camel rider," or jockey, Walid is trussed and left to die in the mountains by his abusive owners. How these two find each other and connect, making their way to safety despite daunting linguistic and cultural barriers and the forbidding desert and deadly heat, makes for a fast-paced, exciting read. The boys' respective dialogue and musings are initially defined by alternately told chapters and changes in fonts. Once they meet, subsequent chapters intersperse these fonts, emphasizing their misunderstanding of each other, sometimes to comical effect. Immediacy is achieved with first-person, present-tense narration. Though the ending is pat and some characters aren't well defined, there's more than enough here to sustain interest and to open readers' eyes to a way of life they'll hardly believe actually exists. (author's note) (Fiction. 10-13)

Product Details

Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.87(w) x 8.31(h) x 0.84(d)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2004 Prue Mason
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58089-315-2

Chapter One


I should be sleeping, but I'm all tense and nervous. Not scared-nervous. I should be, though, because Mum says she rang and told Dad what I did. He's going to kill me when he gets back tomorrow night. But I'll worry about that then.

I can't sleep. I just lie in bed and listen. All I want to hear is that heavy front door pulled shut. That'll mean Mum's really left and gone back to Australia without me and I'll be in the house, alone, for a whole day, until Dad gets home. Yes!

Well, of course, there'll be Chandra, but she's our maid and she's always so busy downstairs cleaning and cooking.

I'm tingly-excited nervous because I can hardly believe my mind-bustingly brilliant brain wave has worked so well.

I can hear Mum moving around downstairs. She's ready to leave, but as usual is giving Chandra last-minute orders. Mum says that Chandra is very honest and reliable, but that her English is not good so she needs to be told things slowly.

Tonight Mum's so het up she's forgotten what she's always telling me and she gabbles at Chandra.

"Adam's father is due back from his flight at eleven tomorrow night," she says quickly. "He'll deal with Adam then, and no matter what that boy says he is NOT to be allowed out of the compound after what he's done. Oh, except to pick up his new school uniform. I meant to get it today, but with everything happening, I forgot. But he's got to come straight back here afterward. Now, is there anything else? Oh, that's right, there's a list of emergency numbers by the phone, and you know if anything happens to the dog the vet's number is there as well." She finally pauses for breath.

I hear Chandra saying, "Yes madam, yes madam," but I know there's no way she really does know what Mum is saying. For sure, though, she'll be shaking her head in that way that means yes, but looks like no.

Sarah, my older sister—who used to be really funny when we first came here—cracked me up when she took Chandra off, saying "Yes madam, yes madam," sounding just like Chandra does. But I was only seven when my dad got a job as a pilot for Abudai Airlines, and we left our home in Melbourne to live here in the Middle East. Sarah was thirteen then, and everybody said she was a brilliant actress. She's given up that idea now and turned all serious and boring. She says she wants to be a journalist instead.

It's funny, though, how quickly we got used to different things, like the way the Indians and Sri Lankans do all that head shaking. It just seems normal now. Like living in a compound is normal.

My mum still doesn't think it's normal to be living so close to other people who work for the airline. Dad says she should consider herself lucky. If she was an Arab woman, she'd be living in a compound with all Dad's relations. But I wouldn't mind living with Barby—that's my grandmother. And it'd be fun to live with some of my cousins. I guess the downside would be that there'd be more people to tell you off when you did something wrong. Plus, there's not much privacy. With all the houses being built around a garden in the middle, everyone can look through your windows and see what you're up to. Mum says it's like being inside a fishbowl. And then there's all the kids running in and out. That's the part I like, because all my friends live in the compound as well, and we can take turns to hang out at each other's places depending on whose dad—or maybe, if we're lucky—whose mum is away on a trip.

My dad reckons that in the future everyone in the world will be living in compounds like ours anyway, with high walls and guards at the gate. He says it will be the only way people will feel safe. I think that'd be brilliant. I love living in a compound.

I hear Mum rattling on again. "Of course, if you need anything, just go across the compound to Margot madam and she'll sort it out—I could kill that boy! But I have to go tonight to get there in time for Sarah's ..." She doesn't bother finishing the sentence, and I can hear her footsteps hurrying up the stairs. Is she coming up to my room?

I begin to breathe deeply and evenly. If she comes in, she'll think I'm asleep. Even though it's midnight, and the car's waiting outside to take her to the airport, I wouldn't put it past her to drag me out of bed and give me another good telling off. She's pretty angry with me because I'm meant to be starting at my new school next Monday. Now I can't.

And she hasn't stopped going on and on about how Sarah's been looking forward to having her little brother back in Australia. As if! She probably just wants to convert me to her latest cause. Dad says we should give her a soapbox for Christmas. I just wish she wouldn't go on and on. Especially when she comes back here for holidays and starts going off about the way things are so superficial over here and how people are so materialistic and stuff. She's always going on about greedy expats and everything she thinks is wrong with modern life here—how it's all about the oil. It's embarrassing.

She used to be fun. When we were younger she could always think up brilliant games. And because she's such a good actress she could take anyone off. For a big sister she was pretty cool, because she even took the blame when we got into trouble, but that was before she went to boarding school and became superior and serious about stuff.

And just because I'm nearly thirteen now, Mum and Dad say I have to go back to Australia and go to boarding school there. They reckon it will give me roots. Like I'm a potted plant or something.

The thing is, they don't understand. I'm different from Sarah. I've got my friends. She missed her friends when she came over here, and she wanted to go back and be a boarder so she could have midnight feasts and pillow fights and all that girls' stuff. But I know what it's like. I know you can't go surfing in a boarding school, so I don't want to go.

My door opens.

"I love you, darling," my mum whispers. But I keep my eyes tightly closed. It could be a trap. If I let her know I'm awake, I bet she'll go on and on again about how I should be ashamed of myself and how selfish I am and how I don't think of anyone but myself.

I just happen to think it was the ultimate, mind-bustingly brilliant brain wave to slip my passport into dad's flight bag before he went off on a four-day trip. It means that now I can't leave Abudai tonight.

I know I'll get a good blast from my dad when he gets back tomorrow night, and he'll probably make me get on the very next flight out of here, but it was still worth it. At least now I've got one more day of freedom.

Chapter Two


"Mama! Do not leave me. I am so frightened. Mama!"

She kicks me. It's then I wake and look up at the face not of my mama, but of Old Goat.

He is like the devil with his scraggled beard, streaked with the henna he rubs through it to make it orange like a flame.

I am lying on the ground where always I sleep, and he kicks me again. I think it is from kicking boys that he is always limping, but he is saying that a camel stood on him when he held it at the start of the races. If only I had seen this. How I would have laughed!

I sniff the morning air. It is sharp and sour, full of the odors of the night, of piss and tears. From nearby camps there are the shouts and curses of others as they, too, wake to this new day. Not far from me, underneath a shelter made from dried palm fronds, I see Badir and Mustapha. These boys are smaller than me, and like rats.

Old Goat hisses at me. "Aiee, Walid, boy! Be stopping that screeching like one bint—just like a girl, you are! Maybe, instead of Walid, we will be calling you Bint." He cackles.

Once I had another name. But only in my dreams now am I remembering my life in my home country. In that time, back in Bangladesh, before I came to this camp to be a rakeeba, a camel rider, my mama said I was Emir Saheer, little prince. Now I answer to Walid, which means only "boy."

With quickness, I jump to my feet to stop Old Goat from kicking me once more. As all of my senses return to this world, I see I have been sleeping too long. There is grey light in the sky and all must soon be rising to say prayers—to thank Allah for making the night be over and ask for blessings of the day ahead.

Mostly I awaken first, for it is my duty to fetch water and boil it to make Old Goat's chai. He likes to have tea before his morning prayers.

There was once one other boy, Yasub, who made the chai. He was bigger than me, but he is gone now. He is dead. He told me that Old Goat has been living in this camp for many many years and that he is older than sin, so he cannot die. It is true this old man is dried up, like one in the desert, yet still he lives to drink his chai and beat boys with his camel stick. But no longer does he hold the head of the camel when it is in line for racing. Breath of Dog is doing this now. He is the son of Old Goat's cousin and he is a bad man. It is because of him Yasub is dead now.

Old Goat curses me. "Ah, Allah! Why are you punishing me with this lazy boy? I am wanting chai before saying my prayers, and now there is not time enough. Say your prayers quickly now, and then go to boil water so it is hot when I finish mine."

I turn in the direction of Mecca and kneel with my forehead touching the ground. But instead of saying my prayers, I look up between my hands to the tall tower of Abudai. It is a building that stands bigger than all others in the city, and my mama said to me that every morning, when the sun rises, before she is starting work for a rich sheikh in Abudai, she also would look toward this tower. She said it would help her to know that I would also be looking—that even though we couldn't see each other, we would never be far apart as long as we could both see this same thing.

But this morning its dark shape is like a shadow because I feel so much sadness. I am sad that I am not waking in my home in Bangladesh with my babu and mama, just like in my dreams. I am here, still, in this hot desert land where the sand is grey and drifting with the wind.

I am not wanting the tears to come, for never am I crying. Not since Babu told me to be like a man and never cry. And I do not. Not even when Babu is dying or when Mama is leaving me with the dalals, the slave traders, who brought me to this camp to live. I do not cry when Old Goat is screeching or when Breath of Dog is beating me. Not even when I fall from the camel and lose the tooths in my head. Never am I crying. It is just these foolish dreams that make me remember a time before I came here. Before I became a camel rider.

As I rise, I quickly touch my cheeks. My face grows hot, for it is as I feared. There is wetness.

"Always crying for his mama in the darkness." Old Goat puts his face close to mine. "He is too much like one bint." He spits, and slaps my face. The blow is stinging to my cheeks.

Suddenly the redness of anger is upon me.

I leap at Old Goat and bite his arm. As he squeals like a goat with its throat being slit, I hear the early morning call to prayer.


Excerpted from CAMEL RIDER by PRUE MASON Copyright © 2004 by Prue Mason. Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Prue Mason has written articles for a children's magazine in Dubai, U.A.E., and for The School Magazine in Australia. She is also a science and technology editor for a children's magazine in Australia. She lives in Queensland, Australia.

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