To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka

Cindy: As I said last week, while Lynn is spending the month in France I am soothing my travel lust with literature. To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story (Roaring Brook 2011) is just the ticket! I admire adventurous people and these two young adults spin a good tale about their travels. Casey Scieszka (daughter of Jon Scieszka–rhymes with Fresca) is the wordsmith and Steven Weinberg is the artist who illustrates their journey. They met in Morocco during their study abroad their junior year of college and reunited for this epic adventure for Casey’s Fulbright study of Islam in Mali education. This reads like a travel diary of sorts starting with their escapades teaching in a variety of schools in Beijing, and then moving on through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and other locales before settling in Mali for the grant work. The expected tales of language, cuisine, and culture snafus are present but so is a subtle exploration of how to really travel. Years ago in Are We There Yet? David Levithan addressed the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. I was reminded of that while reading To Timbuktu.

Weinberg’s illustrations are delightful and sent me in search of his other work. Rather than list all of the websites for the book and his cartoons here, check out this interview with Steven…it has them all listed at the end.

I recently had a discussion with a friend who wasn’t sure this was a teen book. I heartily disagree. Yes, the authors are describing post-college travel in their twenties, but I have 8th graders who read Bill Bryson’s travelogues. I have a young friend who just finished a full year in Taiwan for her junior year of high school on a Rotary Club exchange and she will be the first teen I will hand it to. I can think of many high school students who will be eager to read this heavily illustrated journey through the countries they are studying in high school. Yes, Casey and Steven are living together and their are some details of their relationship (I love the description of the hot hot days and nights in Mali when they lay on the bed like two starfish waiting for the electricity to come back on so the ceiling fan would turn–too hot to touch each other) but high school students are a fine audience for this book. I hope Casey and Steven are on the road again soon and that we get to read about it. Meanwhile I will wait for Lynn’s next email with her France adventures.

Lynn: I think travel writing is particularly hard to do. I am either gushing in cliches or using way too many place names that are only comprehensible to me – witness my latest blog posts! It is hard to make travel writing interesting to anyone other than yourself! Young Scieszka and Weinberg have between them, given us a remarkable book that is not only full of fascinating observations about a myriad of exotic places but is also a charming story of the sweetly evolving relationship of two engaging, sensitive and astonishingly adventurous young people. The two stories are equal partners and that is quite a feat as the places these two visited and lived are places most of us might have trouble placing on a map, yet have a mysterious romantic appeal.

Both the text and the sketches are lively, warm and immediate. I never expect to get to Timbuktu but I think I have a vivid sense of the place and people! Clearly these two loved their travel experiences but just as clearly, we have a good sense of the reality of the places and a taste of daily life all laced with some great humor. I adored this book and the pages seemed to just fly by.

On a personal note, I really admired thses two open-hearted young people and how well they seemed to manage both a developing relationship AND the rigors of travel! My husband and I love travel and love to travel together – something that isn’t always the same thing. He knows that I can manage most anything as long as I get my coffee and has been known to trek out in rain and unknown surroundings just to bring me my morning fix. He manages jet lag better than I do too but has less patience with local eccentricities like grocery stores closing at noon. Anyway this is an admirable book about two lovely young people and their adventures! Enjoy!

Head to Chapter Book of the Day for today’s Nonfiction Monday round up of other blog posts.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

4 Comments on "To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka"

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  1. Real Friends vs. the Other Kind « Chapter Book of the Day | July 18, 2011
  2. To Timbuktu | January 9, 2012
  1. How fascinating it sounds!

  2. So glad you both enjoyed the book so much! We ARE in fact on the road right now, in Colombia, eating chicken feet, motorcycling up mountains to coffee plantations, making friends with Yoko Ono lookalikes… The usual! We are going to put up a bunch of photos on the book’s website when we are back in two weeks. Check it out!

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