In Shifting Sands, author and former Tundra Books publisher Kathy Lowinger takes readers on thoroughly researched adventures through Egypt, Nazareth, and Mecca, paying plenty of attention to historical detail and handling her subject matter respectfully. At first glance, the book appears to be about the lives and times of Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad, but it soon becomes clear that it is more concerned with the experiences of young adults growing up in brutal times and facing difficult choices.
Each narrative, focusing on a separate historical period and religion, is an underdog story in its own way. Lowinger uses her young characters to provide a glimpse of how everyday people may have been affected by Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, Jesus helping those suffering under Roman rule, and Muhammad promoting equality among his people. The three religious figures are portrayed in a straight-forward manner as influential men who dedicated their lives to helping others.
Lowinger masterfully conveys the violence and beauty of these eras. Describing the aftermath of a Roman slaughter, the author uses harsh, frank language: “Death was no stranger in Nazareth. I had seen my share of dead babies and mangled farmers.” In another section, she ably brings the city of Mecca to life: “I felt as if I were in a sandstorm, but one made of harsh voices and glaring colours and sharp smells.”
Though it’s unlikely that most middle-graders would gravitate to the book on their own, Shifting Sands is a great option for school libraries looking for well-balanced religious-studies titles. Its historical explanations and vividly described landscapes also make it an excellent resource for teaching the culture and history of these periods.