Aleppo, 3,000 B.C. citadel, and Cat Man

part of Poetry Friday/KidLitoSphere, sparkling this Friday, with poet Liz Steinglass.


a poem in celebration of Ernesto’s Cat Sanctuary, Syria by JG Annino Peace Color rocks me transforms prey into pal predator into pillow we settle in- wary aloy allies peace be with us and also with you c.2020JanGodownAnnino
a poem in celebration of Ernesto’s Cat Sanctuary, Syria
Color rocks me
transforms prey
into pal
predator into pillow
we settle in-
wary aloy allies
peace be with us
and also with you
c.2020JanGodownAnnino / sculpture by Anna Annino, 2000

Stone is a core pillar of Earth that baffles me.

How it’s made, the differences between igneous and metamorphic, why some stone is marble and other stone is, for example, crumbly shale. And why Florida, where I live, isn’t stoney. But Syria, for example, defines Stone.

As I turned pages in a new and supremely worthy true-story picture book set in perhaps the oldest continually settled city on Earth, my eyes lasered to artist Yuko Shimizu’s paintings of walls, buildings and ancient paths. Stone of Aleppo, a place where famous people we know of from both the Bible and the Qur’an (Koran) walked millennia ago.

We are talking a community whose trade paths  echo so much of so many languages and intrigues and faiths, the entire Old Aleppo is a World Heritage Site.

On my second and third glances through THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO, as a mother, aunt, and children’s writer,  I honed in on the helpful kids. And yes, on the cats the kids were helping, having grown up with, at one count, 13 named felines, in the Franklin Township woods in New Jersey. There were more who lurked further back in the woods. We fed so many because, word got out, if you dumped a cat near our place across the country lane from the Knispel Dairy, we would take it in. Mom, you would have liked Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel and his unselfish service to people and pets of Aleppo.

Mr. Alijaleel, who asks to be called Alaa, his first name, is a paramedic and ambulance driver. He walked stone paths, pulled open doors in stone walls, knew stone buildings in Syria all his life. And then came war. And then, for the first responder, who stayed to help the wounded, came cats.

Fortunately, a Syrian immigrant in my neighbor state of Alabama, Karim Shamsi-Basha, who had once studied in Aleppo for a year, met one of my favorite children’s poets and storytellers, Irene Latham. Mr. Shamsi-Basha spoke with Alaa. They all teamed up with artist Yuko Shimizu. Alaa opens the book with a letter: “This is a story about cats and war and people. But mostly it is about love.”

This book breaks down boundaries.

It’s going to introduce the artistry of calligraphy in Arabic writing to many schoolchildren. Told in English, the book creators use opportunities to also tell the story in the native language of the good people of Aleppo. Read it and learn ma’amoul and barazek – names of two kinds of cookies.

On back and front endpapers, ethereal double spread skyscapes, closing and opening the book feature an uncountable number of flying peace symbols. Over and over. White doves in the air. No cats. Think about that. A brave choice for a story about cats. This story and illustrations leave me feeling as if, without any credentials whatsoever, I’m invited to sit in on a key United Nations aid committee meeting on healing the Syrian people, physically and emotionally.

Please find this book of good will, book of hope, book of love, book of peace  (Jane Addams Peace. Association, please take note.)

twitter: @theAleppoCatman 

Tabatha Yeatts’ Opposite of Indifference  Poetry Month 4.28.20 entry, “Healing Heart” is about this book.

Betsy Bird has her say. And it’s beautiful.

We saw United Nations’ (UNESCO above) Aleppo pages & here, too, Syrian children’s issues at UNICEF.

Please also know paramedic Alaa’s fellow Syrian, a brave medical student.

Aleppo may be from an old way of saying the Arabic idea to”give out milk,” halaba. We don’t know. We do how in one huge example, the milk of human kindness flows from THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO.

Alessandra Abidin in Italy helped found Aleppo’s Ernesto’s Cat Sanctuary with Alaa. Ernesto was the name of one of her beloved cats. People all over the world join every day to support the work, which now includes not only cats, but also, children orphaned by war and yes, their chickens, goats, and dogs. A veterinarian is on staff, as are a technician and other helpers. The orphan animals help the hearts of shell-shocked children heal. The orphanage Alla’s group created gives kids a home.

All because one man, at the end of a long work day in an Aleppo ambulance, fed starving cats.

c.2020 Yuko Shimizu THE CAT MAN OF       ALEPPO





26 responses to “Aleppo, 3,000 B.C. citadel, and Cat Man”

  1. I like that your mother would have enjoyed meeting Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel. My grandfather ended up with a great many dogs because people would leave them outside his house, knowing he would look after them. Thank you for sharing your poem with our TIWYK project! ♥️


    • I’m glad you included THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO in your Things I Wish You Knew project. The April 2020 series at The Opposite of Indifference has taught so many of us important lessons, Tabatha. Appreciations for creating it.

      Groovy, about your kind GrandDad.


  2. My book is on the way from my favorite Indie, which, overwhelmed with orders, will take a while. I read your beautiful post, Jan, & know I’m in for a treasure of a story. I know of this cat man, but am excited to read this new story. Thank you, & may your May be full of kindness as this cat man shows us.


  3. What a great review! I can’t wait to hold this book in my hands. The juxtaposition of stone and cats reminded me of our visit in Rome to a cat sanctuary that occupied ancient ruins–reputedly the very place where Caesar was killed!


    • I see we both notice stone – and cats among stone. That sanctuary was on my RomeList, but had to save it for another trip.
      I’m so glad you got to it & bet you have (past or future) poems inspired by it.


  4. What a great review/meditation. Those last lines inspire me to consider the long-ranging consequences of each act of kindness that each person makes. Thank you.


  5. Thank you for your wonderful review, Jan, and for the extra trivia as well, like the possible connection between Aleppo and halaba. So interesting to think about! I recently read another book about the Syrian war and am excited to explore this one as well.


    • Appreciations for your visit, Michelle, bizee Today’s Little Ditty editor & chief World Wrangler.

      The complex events that have torn up this historic country is a challenge to share with youngest readers
      & so it’s such a huge accomplishment for so many reasons, that this team has brought us THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO
      in such a thoughtful & beautiful form. I know you will treasure it.


  6. How fun to learn of your part of this process, Jan! I can’t wait to read this book. When my husband and I visited our daughter in Cyprus, we lunched with a Serbian family in a refugee camp. So many heart-breaking stories coming out of that area–looking forward to this one focused on hope and peace.


    • I remember your heartfelt pieces about that poignant family to family visit. How fortunate to be able to connect that way. THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO team, with much work, also were able to make heart connection, although long-distance, & in such a beautiful fashion, in artwork, in a letter from Aleppo & in Irene’s lyrical words. I feel anyone who reads it, will cherish this book’s story of children, cats & caring.

      (I am fortunate to own the book & write about it, without taking part in creation of it.)

      happy May Day dear Laura,
      (with safety & health on top!)


    • I keep re-reading it, because it’s just so important for young readers, that the authors & artist found their way into & through this warstory in such a true & uplifting fashion. The illustrations are stunning.


  7. I am so glad you shared Irene’s book here. I had it sent to someone whose beloved cat just died, but I have not yet read it. You have given me an in depth peek! I will follow your links to learn more!


    • It’s nice to meet you this way, Joyce. I’m so glad you gifted THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO. I feel it will be a gift book of many Friends of Cats. Appreciations for your visit today.


  8. Oh, Elizabeth is sparkling, isn’t she? I loved her video on her blog this week. Jan your post is lovely! I absolutely know I will be getting this book for the cats, for the peace for the helping. I can tell from your glowing review that this book is extra special. Do I get a whiff of award winning? Thanks for such wonderful review. I can’t wait to not only read it but also share it.


    • Appreciations Linda. I look forward to A Word Edgewise today. And double thanks for the tip off – I will look for that video. Her ALA videos are the cat’s P.Js. Appreciations for the tip off. I’ve met Betsy Bird on paper, as she was an early supporter of my p.b. bio of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper & of course I’ve been a fan ever since.


    • Irene, hey there, busy book launch author. You & the team delivered a masterful piece of modern war history to the youngest readers in an honest & heart-tugging way with wings of hope throughout. I so much salute this book.


  9. The book looks beautiful–and so bright and cheerful. I miss our gatherings at your table, Jan. After this storm has blown through we will meet again to discuss our own contributions to the world of words..


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