The Camel’s Lament

Cover

Written by Charles Edward Carryl, Illustrated by Charles Santore

Random House Children’s Books, 2004

Canary birds feed on sugar and seed,

Parrots have crackers to crunch;

And as for the poodles, they tell me the doodles

Have chicken and cream for their lunch.

Did You Know?  Because a camel moves its front and back legs on each side at the same time, riders can get seasick.

While those other animals are very specific about what they eat, camels can eat just about anything. Cats, chickens, puppies and oysters sleep in interesting places, but camels generally just sleep wherever they are. Many animals have their own homes, such as lambs, hens, kittens and pigs, but camels don’t usually have their own space. You don’t normally see people riding a giraffe, ox, rabbit or fox, but camels provide transportation for lots of people. Other animals have simple shapes, such as the roundness of snakes or the straightness of lizards, but camels are interesting and bumpy.

The text of this book is a poem by Charles Edward Carryl and its clever rhymes and wonderful meter reminded me of Ogden Nash or Shel Silverstein. It appears that the poem’s original title was The Plaint of the Camel and this version changes it to a lament, which is a more contemporary word. But the funny thing is that, even with that word in its title, I didn’t realize the camel was complaining until after I had read it through a few times. On the contrary, I thought the camel was proud of his flexibility and low maintenance lifestyle. I think it’s the poem’s tone that presents it as light and comical, rather than heavy and whiny. Perhaps some of that comes down to the interpretation of the reader as well.

Hens

These chickens are judging everyone else.

I enjoyed the poem a great deal, but it’s the book’s artwork that really makes it extraordinary. Illustrator Charles Santore represents all the referenced animals in astonishing detail, with striking colors and realistic textures. You practically have to restrain yourself from reaching into the book to pet the sleeping basset hound puppies. The camel is an enigma in the illustrations, appearing sometimes amused, sometimes annoyed and other times completely impassive. I spent a lot of time looking at the artwork and it raised my appreciation for the book (which I already liked) quite a bit.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that when you compare yourself to others, whether or not you compare favorably comes down to your attitude.

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