Morocco & "The Scorpions of Zahir" - June Theme - by Christine Brodien-Jones

Every September "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" was the back-to-school essay our teachers always asked us write.  Invariably I expanded on the same theme: my visit to the New Jersey seashore, where my parents rented a house every July, and sometimes our trips to relatives in Illinois, where the fireflies loomed large in my memory. 

I still love writing about faraway places based on my travels and I've always gathered ideas while traveling.

My upcoming fantasy/adventure book "The Scorpions of Zahir" (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, July 10, 2012) started with a journey.  In the summer of '98 I traveled with my husband Peter and our two teenage sons to Morocco.  We didn't encounter giant scorpions, attacking desert warrior tribes or planets hurtling toward earth, but the experience was seared deep into my memory: the heat and dust, the exotic colors and smells, the frenetic pace of Marrakech.  Most haunting of all was the Sahara, where we traveled by camel and camped overnight in the desert.  As our journey progressed, I became intrigued by the idea of how the desert changes you.

The Moroccan Sahara, July 1998
So I created an "alternate family" - the Pyms - who make a similar journey to Morocco.  Zagora Pym, eleven years old, has one burning desire: to go to the Sahara and find the half-buried desert city of Zahir.  When her father, Dr. Pym, receives a mysterious letter from a friend who's been missing ten years and claims to be in the desert near Zahir, Zagora gets her chance.  She sets off with her dad and older brother Duncan, who's nerdy, squeamish and obsessed with astronomy - and who definitely doesn't want to spend his summer vacation in Morocco. 

I sent the Pyms on the same route that my family took in Morocco, beginning with the night train from Tangiers to Marrakech - a mysterious, frenetic city - where we spent a few days, then rented a car and drove over the High Atlas (the highest mountain range in Northern Africa), stopping at a cafe in the Tizi n' Tiki Pass where we met Mohammed, a Moroccan boy who invited us to his family's house.  We continued south, into the Draa Valley, ending up in a dusty town called Agdz, where we dined with Mohammed's family.  The following day we drove to the edge of the Sahara, to Mhamid, barely more than a desert oasis, where we bartered for camels and started our trek into the desert.

Derek & Ian with Abdul, Mohammed & friend - Agdz, Morocco 1998
Zagora is a combination of my favorite childhood heroines - Pippi Longstocking, Meg Murry, Jo March - and she grows braver and more determined the farther she goes into the desert.  The desert changes not only her, but also Duncan and the two Moroccan kids, Mina and Razziq, whom they meet along the way.

I write fantasy for middle-graders because that was the age when I was most excited about books.  Reading was like a journey to the desert, filled with danger, mystery and adventure.  That's why I hope my books will spark the imaginations of young readers, transporting them from the everyday world to far-flung magical realms and unexpected places.

Find out more about "The Scorpions of Zahir" and view the book trailer at


  1. ...And it was SO easy to be excited about books during the summer, as a middle-grade reader, wasn't it? You could just hear the library calling out to you...

  2. Yes! Summer and books always went together. I had a favorite tree outside the library where I sat and read for hours. :)

  3. Sounds like an incredible adventure, and a great book, too, Christine! The sand, the spices, the intrigue ... so tantalizing!

  4. Thanks, Trudi! Morocco left an indelible mark on all of us.
    One day I hope to return. And if I don't make it back, I guess I can relive that adventure through my book (minus the giant scorpions, of course).

  5. I've always dreamed of traveling in Morocco! Wow! Looks exciting. One day...

    For now, I'll just have read THE SCORPIONS OF ZAHIR. Sounds right up my alley. I loved THE OWL KEEPER, so I know your new one will be amazing. Congratulations!

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  7. Thanks John, I'm so glad you liked Owl Keeper and hope you'll like Scorpions, too.

    Meanwhile, I've got to get my hands on a copy of your book "The Prince Who Fell From the Sky," wow, it looks so intriguing! You must be pleased with all the great reviews.

    (Wouldn't it be cool if all of us Smack Dab bloggers could get together to meet one another and sign each others books?)


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