Reviews for Trouble in Timbuktu


Booklist Reviews 2008 December #2
"For ignorant Westerners, Timbuktu is often a metaphor for a primitive place far from civilization, somewhere in wild Africa. Kessler dispels that myth, and working from her own experiences on several visits there, she celebrates Timbuktu s history. What was once a thriving commercial, religious, and academic center, stretching as far back as the eleventh century, the city is still renowned for Islamic studies, and today there are 16 libraries that house just a small portion of a 700,000-piece collection of ancient manuscripts. The setting is actually more exciting than the contrived, contemporary story about Ayisha, 13, and her twin brother, Ahmed, who act as tourist guides for two evil Americans who are planning to steal ancient manuscripts. Of course, the smart kids trick the silly, condescending crooks, who do not realize that Ahmed can understand their English, and with the help of some adults, the twins save their national treasure. Readers who can overlook the plot s weaknesses will be fascinated by the rich history that reaches into the present day." Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2009 February #1
Precocious twins, Saharan sandstorms and black-market antiquities are par for the course in this middling adventure story set in Timbuktu, but Kessler somehow breathes new life into recycled themes in this Clive Cussler-esque thriller for teens. When Ahmed and Ayisha are hired as guides for an obnoxious American couple, they hardly expect to abet the acquisition of ancient manuscripts. Vowing to preserve their heritage at all costs, the twins set off on a reckless journey that leads to near-dehydration in the desert, the unearthing of family secrets and, finally, the wrath of their worried parents. The author manages to infuse stock characters--e.g. Auntie B, the outcast relative whose guidance leads to triumph and truth--with an unexpected humanity, and her descriptions of rural Saharan life are to be relished. More irksome than the banal plot, however, are the constant attempts to create African colloquialisms: Readers may grow tired of them "faster than dust during a harmattan storm" and find themselves "hungry as a camel four days into the desert" for a reprieve. (Fiction. 12 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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Library Media Connection Reviews 2009 August/September
Twins Ahmed and Ayisha live in a tent community with their family in the ancient city of Timbuktu. Ahmed is asked by a tourist couple to find old manuscripts for sale even though it is illegal to sell ancient Arabic manuscripts to foreigners. Ahmed and Ayisha come up with a scheme to catch the couple in the act so they can be arrested, but it takes them across the burning desert to find their aunt. In this middle grade novel, the author makes a worthy attempt to communicate the Muslim nomad culture that existed around the Mali city of Timbuktu until very recently. Bela tribe family life, the place of women in Arabic culture, hospitality, stories, and the Muslim faith and customs are woven into the story in a transparent manner. Common Arabic and French phrases are explained in the text. Despite uneven plot development, there is enough action and dialog to keep the interest of middle grade students while they absorb the cultural aspects of the Arabic setting. This is a possible companion novel to Suzanne Staples? Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind (Knopf, 1989) or as supplemental reading in World Cultures. Recommended. Karen Perry, Media Coordinator, Wiley Middle School, Winston-Salem, North Carolina ¬ 2009 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2009 March

Gr 6-9--Determined to catch a pair of tourists in the act of illegally purchasing ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, Ayisha and her twin brother, Ahmed, embark on a risky entrapment scheme that takes them on a harrowing trip into the Sahara desert and down the Niger River. Although he's only 12, Ahmed is already an accomplished linguist who makes needed money for his family by guiding tourists around that fabled city. As a proper Muslim girl, Ayisha would not normally meet such strangers, but she is clever and determined, finding a way to be included in one of his jobs. Ayisha is the focus of this third-person narrative, but because the author needs to introduce so much of Malian culture to her readers, the girl must notice and comment on much that she would normally take for granted. Through her eyes and Ahmed's explanations, readers learn a great deal about their world. Kessler's own travels inform the narrative, but teens will appreciate the survival adventure as much as the unique setting. A glossary of words and phrases in French, Arabic, and Tamashek is appended.--Kathleen Isaacs, Towson University, MD

[Page 145]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2009 June
When Ayesha and her twin brother Ahmed meet "toubabs," American tourists in Timbuktu, the Americans speak English in front of Ahmed, who serves as their tour guide, and unknowingly inform him of their plan to illegally buy historic manuscripts and resell them in America. As the top-scoring student in her school, Ayesha wants nothing more in life than to continue her education. But, even though she knows it could mean the punishment of no more school, she feels a compulsion to save their homeland's history from the thieving tourists. The twins risk their lives and head off alone into the desert to get their aunt's help in stopping the theft, and they discover a family secret in the process The story line moves a little too slowly, but Kessler includes a lot of cultural and regional information to provide a real flavor of desert life. Although the Americans are portrayed as rude and uncaring of Timbuktu traditions and cultures, it is still a chance for the reader to understand the perspectives of those native to the region. It is clear that Kessler based her characters on real people she met in her travels. Kessler mixes French, Arabic, and Tamashek words throughout the story and includes a glossary at the end. The tale might appeal to younger readers, especially if they are assigned to read about another culture, but it would probably need a little pushing.--Joyce Doyle 4Q 3P M J Copyright 2009 Voya Reviews.

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