To Timbuktu

To Timbuktu

By Casey Scieszka; Steven Weinberg (Illustrator)

Roaring Brook Press, Paperback, 9781596435278, 496pp.

Publication Date: March 1, 2011


Casey and Steven met in Morocco, moved to China then went all the way to Timbuktu. This illustrated travel memoir tells the story of their first two years out of college spent teaching English, making friends across language barriers, researching, painting, and learning to be themselves wherever they are.

About the Author

Steven Weinberg is a member of the Physics and Astronomy Departments at the University of Texas, Austin. His research has covered a broad range of topics in quantum field theory, elementary particle physics and cosmology and has been honored with numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize in Physics, the National Medal of Science and the Heinemann Prize in Mathematical Physics. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Britain's Royal Society and other academies in the US and abroad. The American Philosophical Society awarded him the Benjamin Franklin medal, with a citation that said he is 'considered by many to be the preeminent theoretical physicist alive in the world today'. His books for physicists include Gravitation and Cosmology, the three-volume work The Quantum Theory of Fields, and most recently, Cosmology. Educated at Cornell University, the University of Copenhagen and Princeton University, he also holds honorary degrees from sixteen other universities. He taught at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University where he was Higgins Professor of Physics before moving to Texas in 1982.

Praise For To Timbuktu

Casey and Steven met and sparked a relationship while studying abroad in Morocco their junior year, and after finishing college, they found that they shared three postgraduation goals: “One: get out of the country. Two: pursue our creative interests (visual art for him, writing for me). And three: be together.” This unique travelogue documents their two-year international jaunt teaching English in China; traveling through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam; and, finally, living in Mali, where Casey studied the role of Islam in education on a Fulbright grant. Nearly every page is split between Casey’s cheery narration and Steven’s charcoally cartoon drawings, which capture slice-of-life vignettes and depict the many people they met along the way. The couple’s experiences can run together into a sort of “And then . . . and then . . .” style of travelers who are careful to recount every adventure and insight but rarely get too deep into any one. For teens itching to get out into the world, this is a road map, and Casey and Steven make for eminently pleasant traveling companions. -- Booklist

Heading into adulthood from the younger end of Eat, Pray, Love territory, two young college grads with itchy feet take most of a double wanderjahr to test their coupledom overseas. In quick, good-humored black-and-white sketches that occupy at least half of nearly every page, Weinberg not only evokes a sense of place in depicting apartments and street scenes but displays an unusual ability to capture fleeting expressions, poses and the emotional tenor of momentary encounters. The two build funds of self-confidence teaching English to children in Beijing, dawdle their way through Southeast Asia, then settle in Mali for most of a year for a Fulbright-funded research project. Occasional brushes with police, illness and hostile locals or disenchanted fellow travelers aside, Scieszka maintains an upbeat tone in her episodic, present-tense travelogue—noting the destructive effects of politics, poverty and tourism but focusing on the pleasures of new friends, new foods, adapting to local conditions, being grownups (“It’s liberating! It’s…full of pressure”) and finding reasons to get “out of bed on the other side of the world even when it’s raining, you haven’t made any friends yet and you’ve got the travel shits like whoa.” Newly fledged adults (and even those with plenty of mileage under their wings) will find both entertainment and perhaps a dollop of inspiration. -- Kirkus Reviews 

Fusing travelogue and personal exploration, this entertaining chronicle covers the nearly two-year odyssey debut talents Scieszka (daughter of Jon) and Weinberg embarked on after graduating from college in 2006. Their goals? "One: get out of the country. Two: pursue our creative interests.... And three: be together." After a six-month stint in Beijing teaching English, the couple journeyed to Shanghai, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand before landing in Mali, where Scieszka (with a Fulbright grant) researched the role of Islam in the educational system. Impressively witty, perceptive, and candid, Scieszka's present-tense narrative catapults readers into each setting, as do Weinberg's fluid cartoon sketches, seamlessly incorporated into every page. The author introduces the various countries with clever q&as ("[M]ake sure you check out my Mae Kong River parties," advises a personified Laos) and explores each nation's language, politics, traditions, and food. Yet at the heart of the book are the friendships that Scieszka and Weinberg forge, as well as their own maturing relationship. Come grad season, skip Oh, the Places You'll Go!--this will be far better appreciated, with its effortless mix of globe-trotting adventure, romance, humor, and expanding self-knowledge. Ages 14–up. -- Publishers Weekly, Starred Review