by Pat Sims

To Timbuktu
To Timbuktu
Words by Casey Scieszka, Art by Steven Weinberg ’06
Roaring Brook Press (2011)

Burkina Faso—it’s the coolest name ever for a country, according to Casey Scieszka, and just one of the nine countries she and Steven Weinberg ’06 visited after their graduation from college. A meeting in Morocco during their junior year led to a connection so strong that they kept in touch once they returned to their respective campuses: Colby for Weinberg; Pitzer College in southern California for Scieszka.

The two hatched a plan to spend the two years immediately following their graduation exploring Asia and West Africa. Scieszka, awarded a Fulbright to study Islam in the schools, and Weinberg, an illustrator known around Colby for his political cartoons in the Colby Echo, planned to document their journeys with her words and his sketches and paintings. What resulted was the book To Timbuktu.

“It’s about Casey and me coming together as a collaborative pair,” explained Weinberg during a presentation at Colby’s reunion in June. “It’s a mixture of pictures and text for adults. I was going to make a Where’s Waldo? book and Casey would do Virginia Woolf, so we came up with a balance.”

It doesn’t take too many pages to warm to Scieszka’s chronicle of their journey through Beijing, Shanghai, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Mali, with a detour to Paris to rendezvous with both sets of parents.

Lively, personal, and enthusiastic, her voice is ideal for narration of this tale of the excitement of discovering new places and cultures, the thrill that comes from making friends in said places, and the challenges involved in assimilating some hard truths. For his part, Weinberg provides stylish, engaging drawings that capture the full range of experiences, from the electrifying chaos of busy streets to the pristine loveliness of a bird-filled tree in an otherwise empty landscape.

To Timbuktu 2
Steven Weinberg ’06 did the illustrations for a collaborative book about his travels in Asia and Africa with writer and partner Casey Scieszka.

The two master (to different degrees) several languages, learn to deal with rowdy schoolchildren, discover the most effective ways to navigate unfamiliar protocols, and dive happily into local cuisine (a love affair with hand-pulled noodles is well detailed).

They discover such shortcuts as “you don’t need clean hair or much of a lesson plan to wow a bunch of first graders” and find that calling students by their chosen English names (Super-Teeth, Dad, and Michael Jordan, for starters) makes teaching considerably easier.

Scieszka and Weinberg chart not only their travels but the evolution of their relationship, which is amazingly durable despite digestive difficulties in a multitude of environments, days on end of crushing heat, and anxieties about what they are doing and whether they are sufficiently giving back.

Now, several years later, Weinberg said, “We still work together—it’s kind of the most fun you can have—why not work with the person you love?” He was also candid enough to add, “But we do want to kill each other sometimes.”