Cover image for The cat man of Aleppo
The cat man of Aleppo
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 28 cm.
In the midst of the Syrian Civil War, Alaa takes care of Aleppo's abandoned cats. --


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The courageous and true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who in the midst of the Syrian Civil War offered safe haven to Aleppo's abandoned cats.

Aleppo's city center no longer echoes with the rich, exciting sounds of copper-pot pounding and traditional sword sharpening. His neighborhood is empty--except for the many cats left behind.

Alaa loves Aleppo, but when war comes his neighbors flee to safety, leaving their many pets behind. Alaa decides to stay--he can make a difference by driving an ambulance, carrying the sick and wounded to safety. One day he hears hungry cats calling out to him on his way home. They are lonely and scared, just like him. He feeds and pets them to let them know they are loved. The next day more cats come, and then even more! There are too many for Alaa to take care of on his own. Alaa has a big heart, but he will need help from others if he wants to keep all of his new friends safe.

Author Notes

Irene Latham is the author of hundreds of poems and nearly twenty current and forthcoming poetry, fiction, and picture books. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she lives on a lake in rural Alabama, where the queen of the house is a cat named Maggie. Karim Shamsi-Basha immigrated to the United States from Damascus in 1984. While in Syria, he spent a year at the University of Aleppo and got to know the people of that ancient city. All of Karim's work embodies love as a universal truth. His desire for people to love one another is where his personal and professional goals intersect.

Yuko Shimizu has been drawing and painting ever since she can remember, and has loved animals just as long. Though she has been illustrating for magazines, newspapers, and books longer than you have lived, this is only her second picture book ( Barbed Wire Baseball , 2013). Yuko lives and works with a rescued senior Chihuahua named Bear, who is probably smaller than the cats in Alaa's sanctuary.

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 3--The power of one person's kindness and commitment to others is a potent message. Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel's life is "a story about cats and war and people. But most of all, it is a story about love." In this book based on an actual person and real events, Latham tells the tale of an ambulance driver who chose to stay in his hometown of Aleppo, Syria, even after war broke out. He begins to come across hungry, lonely cats as he drives his ambulance. With what little money he has, he buys scraps of meat to feed the animals; he extends his efforts to other animals and children as well. With international support, Mohammad creates a sanctuary from war's devastation for animals and children. The straightforward telling is accompanied by graphically strong illustrations. The art depicts war-torn streets, bombed buildings, and great sadness but also playful cats and smiling children who have been helped by Mohammad. Notes from both authors and the illustrator provide a glimpse into the book's inspiration and the research that went into the art. VERDICT A useful addition to school and public libraries to inform and to spark discussion about war, individual potential, and kindness to animals.--Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Authors' agents: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio (for Latham); Rena Rossner, Deborah Harris Agency (for Shamsi-Basha). (Apr.)

Horn Book Review

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 Alaas 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 authors note, Shamsi-Basha explains that during wartime, animals, too, suffer, and caring for them illuminates what it means to be human. Shimizus 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 peoples 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. Julie Hakim Azzam March/April 2020 p.103(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

When the war comes to Syria, many flee, but Alaa stays in his beloved city, Aleppo, where he continues to work as an ambulance driver and helps the wounded to safety.Day after day, he misses his family and friends who have left, wondering where they are and how they are doing. His neighborhood emptiesexcept for cats! However, these cats are affected by the conflict too; they're left behind with shelters destroyed and food and water stringently limited. Alaa, who has a big heart, starts taking care of them using the little money he has. The love between man and cats multiplies, and many people from around the world step up to help. Soon, the cats of Aleppo get a pleasant shelter set in a courtyard. However, Alaa does not stop there and goes on to help other animals and more people, spreading joy, love, and hope. Based on a true story, this picture book is distinctive for its engaging narrative and impeccable illustrations. It is also enriched with notes from Alaa himself (the real one) as well as the authors and illustrator. The often-dramatic images offer a glimpse of the city prior to the conflict and a window on the real people who experience war and try to survive and help others around them. A beautifully told and illustrated story that offers a unique perspective on both war and humanity. (Picture book. 6-9) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

The ongoing civil war in Syria has brought devastation for almost a decade now, and this picture-book collaboration relates that tragedy through the hopeful and incredible true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel. When the war came to Aleppo, many people fled and were forced to leave behind their animals. Alaa, an ambulance driver, began feeding the stranded cats of his abandoned neighborhood, and their numbers quickly multiplied. One social media movement later, he was able to build an animal sanctuary, as well as offer other services for local human survivors. The story of the Cat Man of Aleppo is remarkable in its own right, but it also serves as a bridge between the harsh reality in Syria and young American students, with the cats serving as a more approachable and relatable proxy for the people suffering in the background. Shimizu's lifelike illustrations capture the joy and beauty prior to the war, juxtaposing it with the horror and grief that followed. A trio of early spreads depict the trauma, violence, and mass destruction, though there is no gore, and what follows is a purely hopeful tale of love for one's homeland. What a relief to see Middle Easterners depicted as recognizably modern people through their clothing, technology, and so on rather than religious caricatures or characters from Aladdin. A safe, sobering, and hopeful introduction to the crisis in Syria.--Ronny Khuri Copyright 2020 Booklist