Our editorial intern, Ishita Sinha, a former English teacher at Avasara Academy and Teach for India Fellow, had some wonderful insights on our book Get Off That Camel written by A.H. Benjamin, illustrated by Krishna Bala Shenoi.
When my brother was young and cricket-obsessed, he insisted on wearing his cricket kit to weddings, practiced his bowling technique wherever he went, supplied commentary for make-believe matches, and slept with his bat next to him. Spend enough time with a child — any child — and you will discover their secret passion and how it fills up their reality. Best of all, children don’t care if they are being eccentric. It’s only later that the need for peer approval and conformity seeps in. Meena, in Get Off That Camel!, is mad about camels. Starting from a deep attachment to a stuffed camel toy, camels consume her days and dreams. The moment of transcendent happiness in her young life arrives when her parents get her a real camel. One with beautiful, sweeping eyelashes and scruffy golden fur. Once on the camel, Meena refuses to get down. Ever. Ridiculous and hilarious incidents soon follow, for this is no Mary’s little lamb, but a 7-foot-tall camel. The story is a romp from beginning to end, an ode to childhood’s innocent passions, and a sneaky lesson in compassion.
The plot and the words shine with the craftiness of a veteran story-teller, but the illustrations make the book what it is. Soft-edged drawings capture the fuzziness of a sleeping infant, while more definitive lines portray the energy and toughness of a child. The scenes vary from the hysterical, action-packed escapades of Meena and her camel in a swimming pool, racing through a public park, in a library, as onlookers wear comically-outraged expressions, to tender, teary-eyed ones. Several details in large spreads, like the increasing baby bump of Meena’s mother and the camel’s fart horrifying children in a classroom, will probably be missed on the first reading. Colours flood the book — bright pinks and blues, muted greens and yellows, zany purples and oranges complement the action.
This book is ideal for reading aloud to children in grades 2 to 6, as it is highly entertaining and can spark conversations on topics ranging from family relationships, empathy, the meaning of true love, and animal rights. Children will inevitably shout in chorus, “Get off that camel!”