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To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2011
Upon glimpsing the cover of TO TIMBUKTU, one feels compelled to immediately flip through the pages to discover what the book is about. Don't get me wrong, I'm not encouraging anyone to spoil an amazing story. I'm just saying it's impossible not to glance at the incredible artwork before you read. The caption on the cover says it all: "WORDS: Casey Sciezska ART: Steven Weinberg." Words and art: what a way to show the simple beauty of a travel story created by artists.

The author of TO TIMBUKTU is the daughter of famous children's author Jon Scieszka, and she's quite good. Illustrator Steven Weinberg (her boyfriend) has filled their memoir with charcoal drawings --- classic cartoon art after my own heart, similar to "Calvin and Hobbes." Needless to say, he is an illustrator with substantial gifts, and because the two are a real-life couple, they've managed to pair their writing and drawings perfectly, matching every scene with a picture that illuminates and gives the story life. The word-art combinations are laugh-out-loud funny and make the book one you'll want to buy and keep.

After meeting in Morocco, these two twenty-somethings decide to go one step further and explore the world together while getting used to each other. Not inclined to cut things short or delay their relationship for years, they endeavor to see the world before deciding what to do with their careers and their hearts. After finalizing collegiate experiences, they pursue foreign exchange, a program typically managed by means of a government grant. Grantors require something substantial of their American "ambassadors," so Scieszka and Weinberg submit individual goals and expectations and then receive approval, followed by a voyage to the Far East and then into undeveloped Africa.

Their first stop is China --- one place Scieszka has already seen --- and so, with little knowledge of the native dialects and cross-cultural expectations, they accept teaching jobs, becoming instant instructors to a large number of Chinese children of varying ages. After an overwhelmingly positive experience, they next venture to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Morocco --- and, of course, make a special stop at Timbuktu. (As long as you're going third-world, why not go all the way?)

The couple's combined experiences take them to strange and desolate places, making the expedition difficult in unanticipated ways. Africa proves a more challenging place to live than the Far East, yet they express little surprise in discovering how natural it feels to be a Westerner in remote parts of the world.

Needless to say, Scieszka and Weinberg are both adventurous people with an admirable approach. They are fearless, multi-lingual, get-out-and-go types, each with considerable drive and determination to tackle experiences with enthusiasm and a positive outlook. They also show limited bias in adapting to different regions that are dissimilar in dialect and cultural expectations. The food, described in much detail, is equally dissimilar wherever they go. Contrary to popular belief, Scieszka reports, the Far East has limited areas where there are actually hanging dog carcasses in the markets --- but there are some.

Of greatest concern are the difficult religious and social expectations of certain people, and also the dangers posed to foreigners, particularly to Americans. The couple must work through obstacles to stay their planned time. Living as locals, they encounter language barriers, mysterious illnesses, shocking hygiene standards, delectable and sickening foods, seedy black markets, hazardous mopeds, serious scares, and --- yes --- the unfortunate, very frightening experience of being forcibly taken into custody by the African police.

Overall, their expedition is impressive and continually comical, an experience that screams "go out and find your own adventure." This is a bright story about appreciating different people and places. The writing and art are impressive, making it possible for the reader to be transported. I was also happy to discover that the government-funded venture was not a waste of money. With worthy goals and an idealistic approach, two humanitarians set off to leave each place better than they found it, and this they did. Since returning to the States, Scieszka and Weinberg have dedicated themselves to aiding third-world countries and all of the bright, kind-hearted folks they got to know around the world.

You'll be sure to love TO TIMBUKTU, regardless of your age or background. It is my favorite book of the year thus far.

--- Reviewed by Melanie Smith
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on March 9, 2011
The author of To Timbuktu is the daughter of famous children's author Jon Scieszka, and she's quite good. Illustrator Steven Weinberg (her boyfriend) has filled the memoir with charcoal drawings--classic cartoon art similar to Calvin and Hobbes. He is an illustrator with substantial gifts, and because the two are a real-life couple, they've managed to pair their writing and drawings perfectly, matching every scene with a picture that illuminates and gives the story life. The word-art combinations are laugh-out-loud funny and make the book one you'll want to buy and keep.

After meeting in Morocco, these two twenty-somethings decide to go one step further and explore the world together while getting used to each other. Not inclined to cut things short or delay their relationship for years, they endeavor to see the world before deciding what to do with their careers and their hearts. After finalizing collegiate experiences, they pursue foreign exchange, a program typically managed by means of a government grant. Grantors require something substantial of their American "ambassadors," so Scieszka and Weinberg submit individual goals and expectations and then receive approval, followed by a voyage to the Far East and then into undeveloped Africa.

Their first stop is China--one place Scieszka has already seen--and so, with little knowledge of the native dialects and cross-cultural expectations, they accept teaching jobs, becoming instant instructors to a large number of Chinese children of varying ages. After an overwhelmingly positive experience, they next venture to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Morocco--and, of course, a special stop in Timbuktu.

The couple's combined experiences take them to strange and desolate places, making the expedition difficult in unanticipated ways. Africa proves a more challenging place to live than the Far East, yet they express little surprise in discovering how natural it feels to be a Westerner in remote parts of the world.

Scieszka and Weinberg are both adventurous people with an admirable approach. They are fearless, multilingual, get-out-and-go types, each with considerable drive and determination to tackle experiences with enthusiasm and a positive outlook. They also show limited bias in adapting to different regions that are dissimilar in dialect and cultural expectations. The food, described in much detail, is equally dissimilar wherever they go. Contrary to popular belief, Scieszka reports, the Far East has limited areas where there are actually hanging dog carcasses in the markets--but there are some.

Of greatest concern are the difficult religious and social expectations of certain people, and also the dangers posed to foreigners, particularly to Americans. The couple must work through obstacles to stay their planned time. Living as locals, they encounter language barriers, mysterious illnesses, shocking hygiene standards, delectable and sickening foods, seedy black markets, hazardous mopeds, serious scares, and--yes--the unfortunate, very frightening experience of being forcibly taken into custody by the African police.

Overall, their expedition is impressive and continually comical, an experience that screams "go out and find your own adventure." This is a bright story about appreciating different people and places. The writing and art are impressive, making it possible for the reader to be transported. I was also happy to discover that the government-funded venture was not a waste of money. With worthy goals and an idealistic approach, two humanitarians set off to leave each place better than they found it, and this they did. Since returning to the States, Scieszka and Weinberg have dedicated themselves to aiding third-world countries and all of the bright, kind-hearted folks they got to know around the world.

-- Melanie Smith
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on March 2, 2011
Scieszka's elegant, but playful prose and Weinberg's humorous illustrations invite the reader to take part in two of life's greatest adventures: falling in love and figuring out for yourself just what life has in store for you. The story takes place across a myriad of settings and situations, all brought to life with clever illustrations and a poetic writing style which will transport you around the world as the story's protagonists explore new places, befriend a host of colorful characters, and settle into a new relationship and life after college. "To Timbuktu" is an exquisite piece of storytelling which all audiences are sure to enjoy.
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on January 2, 2012
Casey writes. Steven draws. Casey and Steven meet when they are in the fall of their junior year spending a year abroad in Morocco. Even when they return to their respective colleges for their final year in college, they continue to write and talk, and they finally decide to take a trip together after college.

This lovely book is the result, a picture book for grownups, a travel diary of time spent together as the two live and work together in nine countries of the world.
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on September 26, 2011
This was by far one of my favorite books of the year. Scieszka's distinct voice and Weinberg's artistic style was a compelling combination. When I first picked it up, I worried it would be yet another travel story with little unique value. What I found was the opposite; its unlike anything you'll read, with the perfect balance of humor, cultural insights, and a look at the one-of-a-kind relationship between Scieszka and Weinberg. I highly recommend it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2011
Casey and Steven were college students at opposite ends of the country, one in California and one in Maine. Yet, they happened to meet in Morocco during a study abroad trip. And they decided to keep in touch...and then they decided to move to China and teach English and then head out across the world together. Crazy where the world and life takes you huh? While traveling they fall in love with each other even more, find out about life and the world, and maybe make a few friends along the way (even if they don't speak the local language.) Most importantly...they have fun.

Casey and Steven have an amazing story. And yes you hear that all the time, but how often do you find two young people that know what they want to do, go out and do it, and make the world a better place? (OK maybe a few times, but still...) Casey and Steven let us in on their journey with Casey writing journal entries/travel monologues and Steven adding charcoal sketches to accompany the words and share with us pictures of themselves, sights they saw, or just the people they met. It's one of those books that you pick up and you start reading and then keep going to see what happens and find out where they headed too next. Casey and Steven make us feel like we're there with them, meeting the people that they are. Even better they inspire the reader with the right way to not only travel, but to look at the world around them with new eyes.

I highly recommend this book and it deserves to be the first book every graduate gets, whether from high school or college, so that they may too take a look at the world in a new way.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2012
The premise of "To Timbuktu" is quite intriguing. First, it offers a unique look into the experiences of a young couple who travel and live in nine countries together after they complete college. Second, I like the integration of illustrations with the textual narrative. That said, there are a number of things that rubbed me the wrong way about this book. Primarily, I found Casey Scieszka's privilege and immaturity to be extremely distracting. The story starts off where Scieszka studies abroad in Morocco, where she meets her boyfriend, Steven Weisberg. She then travels with Weisberg to teach in China and to research in Mali on a Fulbright scholarship. There is a strong lack of awareness from the start that such experiences are not common to most young Americans, let alone young people throughout the world. Early on, I also found the casual and cutesy language that Sciezska uses a bit annyoying. That said, I decided to give the book a fair shake.

Truth be told, I did start to enjoy the book a bit more when it centered on their travels and work in Beijing. In this section, one gets the sense that she is maturing from this experience and the challenges living in a new country presents.

However, I found the last section of the book, in Mali to be rather horrifying. I acknowledge she may not have included all details in this book, but one is given the impression that the Fulbright Foundation did not emphasize in any respect the importance of cultural awareness/competency for Sciezska for her research. Moreover, it does not appear that anyone ever informed her of the importance of relying on locals for gaining slow access to such a different society as her own. She describes rather brazenly going into contexts with little to no introduction and operates off of a rather naive impression that the world operates in the same way outside of the United States. Such an attitude places her in situations that are off-putting to others and to which she seems clueless as to why, or then makes shallow critiques of others.

I can only imagine that in Morocco and China, Sciezska had been provided a bit more structure than when she did her research in Mali. Perhaps that would explain why she doesn't convey coming into difficult and challenging situations in these other countries (or the other ones she and Weisberg travel to). However, I am shocked that the Fulbright Foundation provided no structure for a person with only an undergraduate degree in how to go about research in a foreign country.

I did wish throughout the book to see Sciezska reach an a-ha moment, in which she realizes her privilege and is reflexive on her positionality, but the ending of the book left me feeling disappointed and sad. She has been fortunate enough to have such experiences and clearly is quite bright, but I'm not really convinced she has any true clue of this. In the end, the book is a rather self-indulgent travelogue.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2011
As an English/social studies teacher this book was a great buy! I shared excerpts with my students and passed it on to other teachers. We were thrilled to
hear that this is Jon Scieszka's daughter--good writing runs in the family, and yes, Jon is mentioned in the tale. You will feel like you are traveling with
Casey & Steven. Don't let the number of pages psych out your kids; it reads fast with Steven's fun drawings.
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