Review of The Cat Man of Aleppo

The Cat Man of Aleppo 
by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha; illus. by Yuko Shimizu
Primary, Intermediate    Putnam    32 pp.    g 
4/20    978-1-9848-1378-7    $17.99 

In 2012, civil war comes to Aleppo, then the largest city in Syria. ­Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel is an ambulance driver who remains behind while many of his neighbors flee. Soon his area is filled with abandoned cats, whose “lonely, confused faces remind Alaa of the loved ones he has lost.” He begins feeding them (and, as cat lovers know, stray cats return to their food source). News of Alaa’s actions circulates on social media, and he becomes known as the “Cat Man of Aleppo”; an outpouring of donations allows him to create a cat sanctuary. This gentle book emphasizes that in the midst of chaos, caring for the forgotten and discarded, no matter how small, affirms the preciousness of all life. In an author’s note, Shamsi-Basha explains that during wartime, animals, too, “suffer, and caring for them illuminates what it means to be human.” Shimizu’s ink, watercolor, and digital illustrations capture scenes of human despair and physical wreckage along with images of cats perching (and napping) in burnt-out cars and on heaps of rubble. Other images showing the “hope and love [that] fill people’s hearts,” along with the playground Alaa builds and the wells he helps dig in the city, reflect optimism and solace. An introductory note by Alaa, printed in English and Arabic, along with appended author and illustrator notes and art references, provide additional context.

From the March/April 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. 

Julie Hakim Azzam

Calling Caldecott co-author Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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