Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: To Timbuku, by Casey Scieszka

“Literature is more than just paper, you know - it affects every aspect of existence.” - Al, The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers

This post comes to you less than a week after I stated I found it pointless to blog about books because I'm just going to talk about them at book club anyway. Clearly I've just been lacking in books worth talking about.

To Timbuktu is worth talking about.

It tells the true story of two people who, after finishing college, knew three things about how they wanted to proceed:

1. They wanted to leave the country.
2. They wanted to pursue creative projects (writing for Casey, art for Steven).
3. They wanted to be together.

They ended up teaching English in China for half a year, exploring Southeast Asia for a few months before settling in Mali where Casey researched the role of Islam in the education system on grant money and Steven drew portraits, painted education murals on the walls of schools, and both of them continued to teach.

This is the first book of its length (nearly 500 pages) that I have read in a single day in a very, very long time. While writing/illustrating the book, they used their journal entries (both written and drawn) to help them along, which results in a tone that I loved-- a combination between real journal entries, letters to home, oral storytelling, and regular fiction. All of the things I normally would have objected to in a fictional novel made sense in this case, given the perspective.

And then there were the pictures. My sister could tell you more about their actual quality than I could (she liked them a lot), but what I noticed was their role in the storytelling. Sometimes they included punchlines the prose left out. Sometimes they were placed on the page so as to play an active role in the progression of events. Sometimes they were simply illustrations whose inclusion I enjoyed. The cover does not say "Written by Casey Scieszka, Illustrated by Steven Weinberg." It says "Words by Casey Scieszka, Art by Steven Weinberg." They told the story together-- just using different mediums.

There are people who stopped in the middle of Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes (by Maureen Johnson) to look up plane tickets to Europe. I didn't look up tickets while reading To Timbuktu, but now all I want is to teach while travelling the world with someone I love--be they friend or boyfriend. (There's a teacher at my old elementary school who did exactly that with her newly-wed husband in Japan for two years, as a matter of fact-- says it was completely life-changing.)

Actually, upon finishing it I had a strange sense that I had gone on an amazing adventure myself, and as irrational as it sounds, I couldn't wait to get online to tell all of you about it.

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