The Cat Man of Aleppo is the true, and inspiring story of an incredible man– Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel. Alaa, an electrician from Aleppo, chooses not to leave his beloved hometown when the civil war in Syria reaches his city in 2013. Alaa stays behind to help as an ambulance driver and paramedic and begins to notice the many cats who have been left behind as people fled the country. What starts as feeding two cats quickly multiplies, and Alaa and his neighbors join forces to take care of the cats. Word about “the Cat Man” spreads and donations from many countries help him care for the cats. Eventually, a sanctuary is built to house the cats and other animals in need of compassion and care while Alaa’s work continues to spread to the wider community– a playground, the digging of a well, and (as we learn in the endnotes) an orphanage. This well-written, beautifully illustrated book is about humanity at its finest. It will no doubt inspire kids and adults alike to do what they can to make a positive difference in the world.
Beyond this incredible true story, another thing to love about this book is how it came to fruition. In the end pages, we learn that co-author Irene Latham first learned about the Cat Man of Aleppo in 2016. She wanted to write about it, but said, “I knew I wanted to share this story, but I wasn’t sure how– I am not from Syria…” Several years later, Irene met Karim Shamsi-Basha, a fellow Alabama author who immigrated to the US from Syria, and they ultimately co-author this story. Irene and Karim’s partnership is a beautiful example of collaboration and the importance of honoring #ownvoices when sharing stories outside of our own communities.
To see the original BBC video that inspired Irene in 2016, and learn more about Alaa and what happened when his original cat shelter was bombed click here.