Topsy-Turvy Land: Arabia Pictured for Children


Samuel Zwemer (1867–1952) was an American missionary who became known as the “Apostle to Islam” for his strenuous if not always successful evangelization efforts in Islamic countries. He attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and the New Brunswick Seminary in New Jersey. In 1889 he and a classmate founded the American Arabian Mission, which later received sponsorship from the Reformed Church. The next year he departed for the Arabian Peninsula. In 1896 he met and married Amy Wilkes (died 1937), an Australian fellow missionary and nurse. The Zwemers spent some 15 years in the region. Together, they sold Bibles, established mission hospitals, and in 1899 founded a small school in Bahrain. Topsy-Turvy Land was the first of two illustrated children’s books written by the couple. The work aimed to attract young adults to missionary work. In the preface, the Zwemers describe the collection of stories as a “topsy-turvy book; there is no order about the chapters; and you can begin to read it anywhere.” The chapters include a description of the geography of the Arabian Peninsula as well as introductions to Arab customs, such as domestic habits, clothing, prayer rituals, Arabic proverbs, and the slave trade. The book contains 35 photographs, illustrations, and maps.

Last updated: January 10, 2014