Books Early Readers Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Middle Grade Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes Voices From The Fringe: Social Justice

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Meet Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel from Syria

... otherwise known as "The Cat Man Of Aleppo."


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2020 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

The Cat Man Of Aleppo (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
Published by Penguin Random House (2020)
ISBN: 1984813803 (ISBN13: 9781984813800) Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

I have seen this picturebook featured and shared by a few other kidlit enthusiasts, and was thrilled to find it in Overdrive. I know Irene Latham through the Poetry Friday community and am happy to be featuring more of her works for our current reading theme, including Can I Touch Your Hair? (see here).

This book introduces the reader to a man named Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel. Before he became known as The Cat Man Of Aleppo, he worked as an ambulance driver – sorely needed in his war-torn country of Syria.

While there is devastation and stark evidence of war’s aftermath and the Syrian people’s continued struggle, what shone through for me was Mohammad’s kind spirit – and his commitment to care for creatures who are even more vulnerable than he is.

I believe that what strengthened the narrative even further, apart from Mohammad’s Note in the beginning describing the book as a story about love, was Irene’s collaboration with Karim Shamsi-Basha. In his Author’s Note, he wrote about growing up in Damascus, and how his heart breaks continually for his country. He also wrote about reaching out to Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel. What started off as a writing project culminated in a beautiful friendship between them. I also appreciated reading about illustrator Yuko’s creative process, and the amount of research she needed to do in order to make the story of The Cat Man Of Aleppo come alive for younger readers.

I truly hope that this book will be added to your classroom and personal libraries, wherever you may be. Truly a beautiful story about connectedness, compassion, and the spirit’s determination to triumph in the face of overwhelming adversity.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: 42 (out of target 30): Syria (Karim Shamsi-Bashais originally from Syria but now based in the US) | Japan (Yuko Shimizu is from Japan but now based in US)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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