Tag Archives: iraq

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes illustrated by Sue Cornelison

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Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes illustrated by Sue Cornelison

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Often children’s stories of refugees fleeing war are hopeful in a forced way that seems to want to protect them from the reality of what is going on in the world.  As adults we often cling to the ones with happy endings for our children and for ourselves, because the tragic ones are too numerous and overwhelming to comprehend.  This book marvelously does a great job for those older children in the middle that are beginning to understand the world around them, while not bombarding them with the severity of how cruel we can be to one another.  This true story instead focuses on a beloved cat and all the humans of different backgrounds, all over the world that help reunite her with her family.  Giving hope, but also showing the difficulty in the world, and the effects even one person can have in making a difference.

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Kunkush’s family goes to great pains to get themselves (all 6 of them) out of Mosul, and away from the war.  That the fact they sneak their beloved cat with them, shows just how much a member of the family he is. They drive through the night, and walk for days over a mountain, they reach a Kurdish village where they sneak the cat on a bus to Turkey, they then have to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece, only to land in Lesbos and have Kunkush disappear.  The family searches as long as they can, but alas have to move on to their new home.  From here the story switches from following the family to following the cat and all the people determined to reunite him with his family.  Unfortunately, they don’t know where the family is.  Amy, a volunteer, takes the cat to the vet to get cleaned up, and then creates an internet campaign to try and find his family.  People from all over the world donate to his care, and his travel expenses.  Eventually, Amy takes the cat to Germany, where many refugees have resettled and continues her search.  Finally, word gets to the family in Norway, and Doug, a photographer, arranges to fly the cat to her new home. Alhumdulillah.

img_3838.jpgOne could argue that countless people are misplaced each day due to war, and we overlook it because it is easier than dealing with it, so why care about a cat.  And to that I challenge the skeptic, animal lover or not, to read this book and not have your heart-strings tugged.

IMG_3839The book is done beautifully.  The pictures are warm and endearing and are the only proof that the family is Muslim, by their hijabs.  The love the family has for their pet is expressed in the illustrations, and even more so by the real photographs at the end of the book following the Note from Doug and Amy.  At 48 pages the book works really well for 3rd grade and up (it isn’t AR) who can marvel at the cat’s journey.  I particularly think this book is a great way to show children another aspect of refugees.  There are a fair amount of books that talk about the refugee experience or show refugees getting adjusted to a new home.  But, this is a great way to show that refugees are not just defined by a word.  They are vibrant individual people just like everyone else.  By focusing on the cat and his journey, the reader sees what a refugee goes through, particularly this family, and hopefully will stop and think about it.   But it doesn’t just show the family in that capacity, it shows them as a vibrant family who loves and desperately misses their cat- something more children may be able to relate to.

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Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

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It is widely written about, even amongst children’s literature, that in parts of the world, girls are not allowed to go to school, but that many find ways to do so anyway.  What sets this book apart is that it is based on a true story, and while there is some hope for Nasreen, overall it is a really melancholy tale without a happy ending.  At 40 pages, author Jeanette Winter once again conveys a story that shows compassion instead of judgement and undeniable admiration for her characters.  Written on a 4.2 level, the story packs a lot into small, simple sentences, and her illustrations do not shy away from the realities of Afghanistan.  While I was surprised to see that twice the book was challenged, in 2014 and 2016, for showing Muslims praying and for violence, I was glad that it was never banned.   The strength and determination of Afghani women should not be silenced, it should be shared and celebrated.

 

The story is told from the point of view of Nasreen’s grandmother.  She is heartbroken that her granddaughter is not allowed to attend school and practice the arts as she was, and even her daughter-in-law, were able to do as children.  Since the Taliban has come things are dark.  Things get worse when one night soldiers come and take Nasreen’s father with no explanation.  When he doesn’t return, Nasreen’s mother leaves to find him, displaying her own strength to independently take on a society that doesn’t permit her to go out alone.  Unfortunately she does not return either, and Nasreen stops speaking.  Grandma learns of a secret school for girls.  Determined that Nasreen should know of the outside world, great risks are taken for many girls to learn in a private home a few doors down.  Dodging Taliban soldiers and neighborhood boys helping keep their school a distraction starts to pay off as Nasreen finds a friend and starts to open her heart.  The book ends with mom and dad still missing, but hope for Nasreen to see through the window education has opened for her, inshaAllah.

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Thura’s Diary: My Life in Wartime Iraq by Thura Al-Windawi Translated by Robin Bray

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Thura's Diary

It has been a while since I’ve read a wartime diary from a young woman’s perspective, but if memory serves, both Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, not only enlightened me to what living through the atrocities was like, but also emotionally established a connection of how horrific the truth of war really is; this book unfortunately, did neither.  To give it the benefit of the doubt I am now reading it as an adult, which may have changed my expectations and hardened my understanding of war, but very little in this 136 page book was memorable to me.  An AR level 6.1 the book is a quick read with some odd footnotes and definitions on each page.  I’m assuming the translator wanted to make sure the book flowed, but for some reason the bold words and obvious definitions annoyed me.  The center of the book is filled with pictures of Thura and her friends and family in both England and Iraq, which I found misleading since she never really introduces us to her friends so frequently pictured.  Overall I felt like I had more questions about what her life was like during 2003 then she answered.  I understand that it reads like a rough draft, because it is presumably her true diary, but it seems if you were going to publish it you would flesh it out a bit, explain why you ended up not going to the countryside on various occasions, explain your father’s role in the Baath party, what happened with your BBC interviews, explain why you feel that women have no rights, did you feel this way before shock and awe? What did you come to America to study? etc..

SUMMARY:

Nineteen year old Thura is in Pharmacy School when news breaks that the coalition forces are going to start bombing Iraq.  Her family is middle class, religious, but liberal, and as they prepare for the inevitable their lives become uncertain to say the least.  The oldest of three daughters Thura attempts to articulate the fear of bombs falling, the anxiousness of what will happen to their homes, friends, and families, while not necessarily being “adult” enough to be privy to all information to share insight into the rational that is now her life.  At times she seems to whine about her situation, and at other instances she has patience and maturity to appreciate that they are safe and together. The choppiness of why one day she is able to go to the journalist’s hotel, but the next day can’t leave, and her back and forth feelings about school are never explained and leave holes in her narrative.  If the intent is to explain what life in wartime Iraq was like, relying on the readers to fill in the gaps is counter productive and inaccurate.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it is written by a young, modern girl, and is a conflict that in many ways is still ongoing, and providers children today with some insight beyond the headlines.  The book on the surface will allow a dialogue to take place potentially forcing students to imagine what their lives would be like in a similar situation, and how quickly the safety and security you feel can be uprooted.  She is a relate-able figure in that she is in college and she worries about her friends and family.  It is also a fairly easy read.  Non-fiction for many is dry and factual and this book reads more like a story, which I think would appeal to many students, particularly those with ties to Iraq.

FLAGS:

The book does use strong language on a few occasions: hell and bastard.  It also mentions pornography a few times, in the context that once Saddam is overthrown pornographic magazines and films are becoming commonplace and it makes her uncomfortable.  She mentions that culturally growing up she is even “embarrassed just to hear the word ‘sex’.”

She is very anti hijab and it isn’t explained why.  She discusses religion in a more cultural way, but does discuss reading Quran on one occasion, and mentions the masjid. As a whole, it doesn’t seem to be a big part of her life, but obviously is a part of her environment.  She mentions the lack of women’s rights and her frustration with her own people preventing her from moving about uncovered after the soldiers occupy Baghdad, but not knowing why she is against hijab specifically leaves a lot of guesswork that could be taken many ways in the reader’s mind.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know if I would do this as a Book Club book.  I would probably discuss it with the Middle School Social Studies teacher and see if it could supplement a lesson or be offered as extra credit perhaps, but because there are such holes in the narrative I would be nervous to be presumptuous about what she means, or what was going on in certain places, being that it is a work of non-fiction.

A 7th grade lesson plan: http://chippewavalleyela.pbworks.com/f/Gr+7+Unit+3+Teacher+Lesson+Plan.pdf

The copy I read has questions and things to consider every few pages and an “Exchange” on the back inside cover with ideas, questions, and reflections outlined.