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Mysterious Traveler

Mysterious Traveler

5.0 1
by Mal Peet, Elspeth Graham, P.J. Lynch (Illustrator)
An uplifting tale evoking the golden sands of Africa by Carnegie Medalist Mal Peet and his wife, Elspeth Graham, captivatingly illustrated by P.J. Lynch.

Already an old man, desert guide Issa has seen thousands of dawns. One particular morning, however, the desert reveals something new; something that changes his life. Tucked away in a narrow cave, shielded


An uplifting tale evoking the golden sands of Africa by Carnegie Medalist Mal Peet and his wife, Elspeth Graham, captivatingly illustrated by P.J. Lynch.

Already an old man, desert guide Issa has seen thousands of dawns. One particular morning, however, the desert reveals something new; something that changes his life. Tucked away in a narrow cave, shielded from a treacherous dust storm by a faithful camel, a baby girl lies wrapped in fine cotton and wearing half of a star medallion around her neck. Issa names the girl Mariama. As years pass, Issa loses his sight, and Mariama becomes his eyes. So Issa doesn’t see the pattern on the robes of a mysterious young traveler who comes through their village, or the medallion he wears. Who is this young stranger, and what does his arrival mean for the life Issa and Mariama share in the desert?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A group of travelers who approach the famous guide Issa for help traversing the dangerous Bitter Mountains snort with derision when they learn he is blind: “A blind guide? Is this some sort of joke? Some sort of trick?” Lynch’s painting shows the turbaned heads of the travelers in foreboding shadow as they leave Issa’s house, deciding to attempt the journey on their own. Sure enough, they find trouble; Issa and his adopted granddaughter, Mariama, must rescue them and their camels during a sandstorm, discovering, as they do, the secret of Mariama’s birth. The husband-and-wife team of Peet and Graham (Cloud Tea Monkeys) tell the tale in grand, Arabian-Nights style (“the light of the rising sun touched the tips of the mountains and painted them a glowing, burning gold”), while Lynch (No One But You) matches their tone with watercolor and gouache paintings that recall Rackham or Dulac. It’s a romantic story, an ostensibly traditional tale invented out of whole cloth, and—as any good romance should—it succeeds in hooking readers right from the start and leaves them wanting more. Ages 5–8. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
The story ... resonates and would be a beautiful read-aloud. A sumptuous, memorable tale of family ties.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Muted, earth-toned watercolors supplement the text, creating a magnificent story. This heart-warming book is based on a true story and will prove a welcome addition to upper elementary and middle school libraries.
—Library Media Connection

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Research on caravans of salt and gold crossing at Timbuktu, where they found guides through the desert, inspired Peet and Graham to imagine a story based on a famous blind guide. Peet, a Carnegie medalist, teams with Graham and Lynch (twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal), to create a book part folktale and part Victorian adventure set in an exotic locale. In the midst of a fierce desert storm, frantic riders on camels disappear. The next day, guide Issa discovers a tiny baby, guarded by a camel and wearing half a golden medallion. Who could she be? He names her Mariama and calls her his grandchild. Their bonding is touchingly portrayed as Mariama grows and learns what Issa knows about the desert; when Issa goes blind, Mariama becomes his eyes. One day, mysterious strangers arrive, looking for a guide, but when they realize Issa is blind, they scorn his help--only the youngest man looks twice at Mariama. As the strangers move off alone, the adventure begins. This tale is not a picture book, though Lynch’s paintings are vital for establishing mood and landscape. It is more in the tradition of an “illustrated book” like those of N.C. Wyeth, where each picture shows one moment and, in this case, seems framed in finely carved ivory. On some pages, pictures stretch more freely, while a center spread reveals wondrous blues and golds on towering peaks at sunrise. A royal revelation leads, as fairytales should, to a gorgeous palace where Issa and Mariama live happily ever after. Lynch’s watercolor-like illustrations use browns of subtle shades and values to evoke sky, desert, jagged mountains, and rocky valleys; sensitive character portraits add intensity to emotions. This collaboration will appeal especially to middle readers who love exploring new genres and unusual settings. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft AGERANGE: Ages 9 to 13.
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—Peet and Graham team up again for an original folktale, this one inspired by the guides who navigate the Sahara in Mali. The authors spin a sweet and predictable story about a baby wearing a valuable necklace who is rescued from a sandy death by a kindhearted old man named Issa. He raises the infant as his granddaughter, relying more and more on young Mariama once his eyesight begins to fail. The text grows increasingly fantastical as Issa's blindness forces Mariama to verbalize the visual wonder of the vast landscape they traverse for a living. Lynch's rich mixed-media illustrations-in shades of velvety browns and tans punctuated by blues-capture the desert's expansive quality. Their beauty evokes Issa's love for the land, but does not entirely convey the menacing nature of the mercurial terrain, an essential tenet of the story. After a trio of arrogant visitors rejects Issa's guidance, he and Mariama rescue them just as a potentially deadly sandstorm swirls up. No one but the characters will feel surprise when the chastened young leader of the group notices Mariama's pendant and discovers her to be his long-lost sister and a princess. Some of the descriptions (e.g., "big-bellied baobab trees lifted their thick branches and fingery leaves like a line of stout old gentlemen waving their arms in the air") offer fresh whimsy to the folktale form. These lyrical sparks and Lynch's illustrations, most notably a desert mountain scene awash in luminous blues, elevate this effort.—Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-09-15
An old man, wise to the life of the African desert, finds a treasure. Issa is the most sought-after guide in the desert, as he sees, hears and smells so keenly. A mysterious ribbon, torn loose in a desert storm, leads him to an amazing discovery--a baby girl he raises as his own. When Issa loses his sight, the young girl, a gift from God he names Mariama, learns to use words to describe colors and shapes. The mountains are a "deep, dark blue, like the scarves of the camel traders who came from the north." Then, one day, travelers come from the distant east. Their impatience and disdain for Issa almost results in disaster, but Issa and Mariama save them, and a family is reunited after many years of searching. Peet and Graham have crafted an elegant story filled with gorgeous descriptions of the desert world and its storms. Their characters have strength gained from their Islamic faith, abiding love and respect for their harsh land. Lynch's mixed-media paintings, some framed in borders, capture the grandeur of the people and their landscape using a color palette saturated in golds, coppers and blues. The story, perhaps set during the time of the kingdom of Timbuktu, resonates and would be a beautiful read-aloud. A sumptuous, memorable tale of family ties. (author's note) (Novella. 7-12)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.50(d)
590L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Husband and wife team Mal Peet (1947–2015) and Elspeth Graham wrote three books together: Cloud Tea Monkeys, Mysterious Traveler, and Night Sky Dragons. Mal Peet also authored several YA novels, including the Carnegie Medal–winning novel Tamar, the  Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book Life: An Exploded Diagram and three Paul Faustino novels: Keeper, The Penalty, and Exposure.

P.J. Lynch is one of the most talented illustrators working today. He is a two-time winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, and three of his books, including The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, have been awarded the Christopher Medal. He lives in Dublin.

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Mysterious Traveler 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an elementary library assistant there is not much time to read. Finding a little time I picked up this book and read it.  I was hooked by the beautiful way the scene was set by words. I wanted to meet Issa and listen to his stories. It felt so real. I love books that give  the reader a glimpse of how and where others live. It was truly a magical story of love and acceptance. Can't wait to read it to some of my students.