Tag Archives: pets

What Happened to Zeeko by Emily Nasrallah illustrated by Maha Nasrallah Kays

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What Happened to Zeeko by Emily Nasrallah illustrated by Maha Nasrallah Kays

zeeko

Told from a cat’s perspective about living through parts of the 1982 war in Beirut, this translated from Arabic young adult book is 121 pages.  It reads to me more like a middle grades book, and while the story is fairly monotone and anticlimactic, I find myself oddly thinking about it and wondering about everyday events from different perspectives.

SYNOPSIS:

Zeeka as a young kitten is taken from his cat family and placed with a new human owner, Muna, a young girl who loves and cares, and seemingly understands her new furry friend.  The relationship between Muna and Zeeko is really the crux of the book as they get to know one another, trust one another, vacation in the mountains together and then seek refuge in the basement shelter of their building when the shelling starts and the bombs destroy the neighborhood.  

Through the relationship details, the reader learns a lot about what kind of person Muna is and why Zeeka is willing to perform a heroic act to try and help her escape the danger, while sacrificing his own comfort.  

WHY I LIKE IT:

I don’t know that I loved the book, but it was a quick read that I don’t regret spending time with.  It is translated from Arabic, so there are some hiccups, but nothing that impairs the story continuity or comprehension.  It almost starts out like an early chapter book with each chapter being two pages long.  But then all of a sudden a neighborhood cat is murdered by a group of naughty boys, and you realize that it is not for younger children. 

How the book handles war however, is very removed and not really detailed at all.  Much like The Cat at the Wall for about the same age group, the use of an animal to simplify the absurdity and details of war is used to show a different perspective, however, in this book there is no information given about the war.  The reader is never told who is fighting, why they are fighting, what sparked the fighting, nothing.  All we know is that there is fighting.  

There is no mention of religion in the book, and I have no idea of the author’s faith, there really isn’t much culture in the book either. I didn’t learn much about Lebanon or the food or traditions.  I got the book from www. crescentmoonstore.com/ so I thought to review it as it seems available on Islamic websites.  Every dozen pages or so there are illustrations and sometimes there is a blank page before each new chapter and sometimes not.  There is a table of contents at the end of the book.

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FLAGS:

Murder of a cat, violence in general in terms of bombing and micro level of bullying and threatening.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club book, but I think if you are looking to learn more about Lebanon or point of view this book would have a lot of potential with guidance.  From a literary creative writing perspective the book would be a great tool to present complex events in simplified ways, it also would be a great read to get students to just look at things from different points of view.  If you have students that love cats and can handle the war aspects, this book would be fun for them.  In a social studies class if you are discussing affects of war or learning about Beirut in the 80’s the students will be able to fill in the gaps historically and politically.

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Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

zak and lies

In the first Zak book, Zak had good intentions that just never went his way and we, as the readers, really felt bad for him.  In this new book, it takes a few pages to feel sympathy for Zak as his little lies get him in trouble, but sure enough when he finally changes his ways, it is cause for relief, celebration, and a great lesson to teach kids something that they do without much thought.

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The book claims to be for 3 to 7 year olds, but I think it works best for 3rd graders who seem to be testing honesty out.  Yes, it is great to introduce it to younger kids, and you really should, but like the first Zak book, the pages are a bit text heavy and the concept really should be understood without too much hand holding.  For me, the power of the book is the way that Zak’s little lies snowball in to a habit, and the climax really is something that you want the child to feel from within, not as just an adult once again telling them to be honest and not lie and to listen.

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Zak starts the book with one more chore to do until he can go to the skate park with his Baba to play.  But, he gets caught in a lie about his bearded dragon, Dwayne, and the stage is set for him to get through the day honestly.  The next test doesn’t involve lying to his parents, but rather some kids from school that tease him, he doesn’t tell the truth and consequences ensue.  Next up he lies to his sister, again a great addition in showing that honesty is not just important when dealing with parents or adults, but that it needs to be the standard in all our dealings.  At the end, it is his sister getting in trouble for something that he has done that forces his to come clean about his whole day and to learn that truly, “Nothing in the earth and in the heavens is hidden from Allah” (Surah Al-Imran 3:5).

The hardback book is 29 pages with the last two pages being Discussion Questions and more information about the Quran Ayats and Hadiths mentioned.  The illustrations are not too busy, but the characters facial expressions are spot on, and often where the emotional cues for the text are found.

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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Hiss-s-s-s! by Eric Kimmel

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Hiss-s-s-s!

So um ya, its a book about a boy who wants a pet snake. Very linear, very simple, often more instructional than story, but somehow I really enjoyed it and read it in one sitting, as did my 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. The book is 154 pages (including the author’s note) and is written on an AR 3.7 level.

SYNOPSIS:

Omar is an American Muslim who wants a snake.  His dad, Ahmed, supports the idea, but his mother, Hoda, is terrified of snakes, and begrudgingly gives her permission.  The rules are pretty simple, Omar will have to take care of the pet, and it is never to leave his room.  His mother basically doesn’t want to know that there is a snake under the same roof.  Little sister Zara is just excited.  The majority of the book is Omar learning about corn snakes, and everything involved in their care.  There are a lot of lists, and passages about him researching and taking notes. His friend Philip, nicknamed Samkatt-short for Samurai Cat, is the comical sidekick, who in this case also is the brains in the group, keeps the plot moving along. The author sprinkles in some anecdotes and history giving the characters depth.  We learn Ahmed’s dad is from Pakistan and while he grew up in the city he spent time in the country and with snakes.  He retells a fictional story about how snakes kept the rodent population down, and thus allowed the farmers in his family to have higher grain yields.  He also tells Omar tidbits about his time in college working in a biology lab with snakes.  Omar’s mom is an accomplished artist that often incorporates her Lebanese culture into her work and gallery shows.  The banter between her and Samkatt keep the story light and entertaining.  (SPOILER ALERT) At the climax, the snake gets loose, and Omar learns where his mother’s phobia comes from in her childhood.  During one of Lebanon’s many wars, a man with a snake tattoo beat her father extensively while she was forced to watch.  This somehow over time developed in to Ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes.  When the snake pops up, mayhem ensues, resulting in Hoda going to the hospital and Omar having to decide what to do with his snake, Arrow.

WHY I LIKE IT:

It is such a simple story, yet the warmth of the characters at the beginning and end really made it enjoyable.  I truly applaud the author for stretching a very simple idea into a full fledged YA novel.  The characters and family are Muslim, but it isn’t really discussed or made an issue.  There is nothing religious talked about or detailed.  In some ways, it would have been nice to throw a little more cultural or religious depth in to the story to connect with the characters, but being as the author is not Muslim it is kind of impressive that he presented them as just a regular American family.  Culturally there are only a few references outside of the anecdotes the parents share: Omar can’t come up with an example of when he was bullied, some of the foods served or eaten, the mother’s art work.

FLAGS:

None. Even if you don’t like snakes, the book should not make you squeamish.

TOOLS FOR TEACHING THE DISCUSSION:

There is not much to discuss with the book, and thus I wouldn’t choose it for a book club pick.  I think 2nd or 3rd graders, however,would do well with the book in small groups.  There is just a tinge of foreshadowing, symbolism, and interpretation that wouldn’t overwhelm the student, but would boost their confidence when they connect the dots so to speak.  Plus, some discussion could come from how he had to persuade his family, the responsibility he had to show, and the sequencing of events. The worksheets and questions would practically write themselves.

Author Eric Kimmel’s blog about the book http://ericakimmel.com/2012/02/h-i-s-s-s-s-s/