Trouble in Timbuktu




Ayisha and Ahmed know there is trouble. Something is not right with this American archaeologist and his wife. Supposedly tourists. Why are they so interested in the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu? Could they really be plotting to steal one? Well, they are more than old manuscripts to Ayisha and Ahmed—they are a rich part of their own heritage. No way are the two teens going to let this happen! They risk everything to stop them, embarking on a desperate quest that takes them across the desert, through a deadly heat, a sweeping sandstorm and finally to the port city of Korioume to confront and trap the wily thieves—and save a treasure of Timbuktu.

Ahmed jumped to his feet, stepping out from behind the termite mound to look where Ayisha was pointing. A sudden ominous silence filled the air. The sky started to turn dark, like the sun had set, but both knew that was not possible. A harmattan dust storm was on its way. One never knew when such a storm would start, for their onsets were sudden and raging.


A cloud of dust was building, eating the sky as it moved forward. The sun, still a distance from setting, was blotted out by the massive red wall of spiraling dust. Ahmed’s white pants began to whip about as he reached for his sister’s hand. “Stay standing,” he shouted. “If we are seated we shall be covered with sand and no one will find us ever again.”

Book Reviews

Review from the St. John Sun Times
Ahmed and Ayisha’s quest takes them across the desert in search of their favorite Auntie B. She’s a colorful and warm presence with her vibrant garments and adventurous spirit. Though a Bella by birth, she has chosen to live at the edge of a sand dune in a Tuareg village with the family she’s known since childhood. Historically, the Tuareg have looked down on the Bella, whom they owned as slaves in an earlier time. As a consequence, relations between the two groups can be uneasy. Still, Auntie B has found her place among them. The twins travel to find her and hope to enlist her help in ensnaring the toubabs… Though Trouble in Timbuktu is written for young adults, I recommend it to readers of all ages. The multiple threads of the story come together to make for an enjoyable reading experience.
-Martha Hills, St. John Sun Times, April 2009.

School Library Journal
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

Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books
Set in contemporary Mali, this novel follows thirteen-year-old twins Ayisha and Ahmed on their quest to protect their country’s national treasures from a conniving pair of American tourists. When Ahmed first meets Griff and Trudy, he senses that something is amiss: they are a little too interested in having Ahmed tour them around museums and libraries in Timbuktu where they might see ancient manuscripts; in fact they’re trying to buy some, despite the fact that it’s a crime to remove such historical treasures from the country. Ahmed reports his encounter back to sister Ayisha, and soon the pair are off on a mission not only to stop the Americans from getting their hands on any manuscripts but to ensure they are caught in the act of purchasing, so as to ensure their punishment as a deterrent to other speculators. The story gains momentum slowly, and it may be awhile before the readers understand the significance of the manuscripts, but once the it gets rolling, it is a wild and wonderful adventure through the mysterious city of Timbuktu, the dangerous expanse of Sahara Desert, and the bustling energy of a distant nomadic encampment. Ahmed and Ayisha are a formidable pair, and readers will enjoy problem-solving along with the sibs as they dig themselves deeper and deeper into the investigation, running into boundless danger at every turn. Kessler (author of Our Secret, Siri Aang) has created a world rich in cultural detail, and there is abundant cross-genre appeal; the novel is at once an adventure, a mystery, a family story, an exploration of a distant culture, a study in gender in the Muslim society, and an examination of the elemental questions of right and wrong. An author’s note and several glossaries are included.