This true story of The Cat Man of Aleppo will always remain in my heart. In this time of the virus and difficult challenges, this true story is an inspiration. A note from the Cat Man, Mohammad Alaa Aljsleed, in the beginning of the book says, “This is a story about cats and war and people. But most of all, it is a story about love”. His love for cats and how he cared for them after the terrible destruction of the civil war in Syria is the focus of the story.
After the bombing of Aleppo, Mohammad Alaa Aljsleed did not leave the city of Aleppo as so many others had done. Instead, he stayed to continue his work as an ambulance driver. As he went about his days, he noticed hundreds of cats that had been left behind by their owners. The cats were starving and had no shelter. “The cats lonely, confused faces remind Alaa of the loved ones he has lost”. He decides to look after the cats. Soon he is providing food and water to fifty cats. Then Alaa says, “I need a place to keep them safe”.
“Word spreads, and volunteers arrive. Donations prove in from many different countries”. Soon there is a building to house many more cats and Alaa decides to rescue other animals too. Next, Alaa builds a playground, for the children remaining in the city and then he digs a well for fresh water. He also distributes food to people. At the end of the book, “Alaa’s big heart is happy. All he did was love the cats, and that love multiplied and multiplied again”.
At the end of the story, there are notes from each of the authors and the illustrator that give even more information. In the note from Karim Shamsi-Basha, he describes Alaa as “a noble hero”. He writes, “Telling the story of the effects of war on people needs to be done, but on animals? They, too, suffer and caring for them illuminates what it means to be human”.
Shamsi-Basha adds, “His (Mohammad Alaa Aljsleed) work now includes an orphanage for children left parentless from the war”.
The art for the book “was first drawn with black ink on watercolor paper, then scanned in and colored using Adobe Photoshop”. This process resulted in realistic illustrations that have texture and targeted use of color. The illustrator’s note at the end gives important information about her extensive research for her pictures and her use of references photographs for the people and places in the book.
This is a book to read aloud and engage children in discussing how Alaa took the lead to care for the animals but also he inspired others to support and participate in the care of the animals and then the children. The Cat Man of Aleppo is a story of hope and love that will inspire and give hope to anyone that reads it. –Recommended by Marilyn Carpenter, Professor Emeritus Eastern Washington University.
Title: The Cat Man of Aleppo
Authors: Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha
Illustrator: Yuko Shimizu
ISBN: 978-1 9848-1378-7
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