cover image The Cat Man of Aleppo

The Cat Man of Aleppo

Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, illus. by Yuko Shimizu. Putnam, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-9848-1378-7

In this picture book biography of an unexpected war hero, Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel—Alaa—is first seen in the old covered market of Aleppo, his native city. When war comes to Syria, many inhabitants leave, but Alaa stays to help: as an ambulance driver, “he swerves through the rubbled streets and carries the wounded to safety.” Intricate digitally colored ink drawings by Shimizu (Barbed Wire Baseball) portray scenes of desolation in this story by Latham (This Poem Is a Nest) and Shamsi-Basha, a Syrian-born writer and photographer. With meticulous care, Shimizu draws the destroyed buildings, the empty streets, and the cats that fleeing Syrians have left behind. In one striking spread, a huge olive tree towers over Alaa, two cats eyeing him from its branches. He starts bringing the strays food and water. “Together we can save them all,” he tells his neighbors. Donors who hear about his efforts help him fund a sanctuary (“Alaa is able to rescue other animals, too”), a playground for children, and a well. “All he did was love the cats, and that love multiplied and multiplied again.” Latham and Shamsi-Basha pick out the glimmers of light that make up Alaa’s story, and Shimizu portrays their beauty. Author’s notes give more information—including where to donate. Ages 4–8. [em]Authors’ agents: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio (for Latham); Rena Rossner, Deborah Harris Agency (for Shamsi-Basha). (Apr.) [/em]