Amid sand and dust, a treasure awaits

The morning after a desert storm, the old guide Issa heads out with his donkey and discovers a startling sight: an infant, stashed in a narrow cave. Her eyes look like black pearls, and she wears a cord around her neck, where the shape of a half-star dangles. Issa cannot understand the letters hammered into the gold. Mysterious Traveler by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham
Even though he is old, Issa feels compelled to take care of the foundling he names Mariama. In time, he teaches her to decipher the “maps made by the stars, the shimmering paths through the hills, the weather foretold by dawns and sunsets, the messages on the wind, the stories told by stones.”
The girl Mariama accompanies her “grandfather,” as people call him, as he leads travelers and traders through the desert. Then Issa becomes blind, and he despairs, wondering who will pay for his services now that he can’t see. The girl offers to be his eyes and learns how to describe the details that will enable Issa to “see” the world. She is so adept at this that Issa continues to be revered as an unparalleled desert guide.
One day, though, three strangers arrive, one of whom will turn out to have a special connection with Mariama and who will transform their humble habits.
This gentle, hopeful story shines with polished language, a suspenseful plot, and light-infused, earth-colored paintings by the remarkable illustrator P.J. Lynch. While the authors specify no specific setting, an afterward notes they were inspired by reading about the ancient town of Timbuktu, in Mali, and of a famous blind guide. Middle-school students will uncover an entrancing world in Mysterious Traveler.

For upper-elementary school nonfiction set in Africa and elsewhere, see …
Elephant Quest by Ted and Betsy LewinTooth and Claw Animal Adventures in the Wild by Ted LewinHow Much Visiting Markets Around the World by Ted Lewin


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