• Jan MacWatters

"Bloom where you are planted" - The Cat Man of Aleppo.

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

I just finished reading "The Cat Man of Aleppo" by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha and this phrase came to mind. It's a old adage used among military wives, to encourage us to accept wherever we happen to be stationed and make it seem like home. Good advice. It's a beautiful story on its own, and nicely illustrated, despite the wartime theme, by Yuko Shimizu but it serves to highlight that we can all do something to make the world a better place right where we are. As a result of the Syrian war, people fled and became refugees, or were killed, and the animals were left behind. This is the story of Alaa, who chose to remain in his home in Aleppo, despite the war to continue his work as an ambulance driver. He began to take care of many of the abandoned cats, eventually getting help from the rest of the world to develop a sanctuary for cats, and later a place for children.

Use the book as an introduction to life in other countries, to the fact that animals are often abandoned as a result of war. This is a great book for upper elementary students and middle school students to develop questioning skills. Let them read the book and write down as many questions as they can after reading it. Then, help them to find more information by using Encyclopedia Brittanica online. Most schools will have access to this online resource, so ask your school, or your public librarian for more information. You can also find websites about this true story by using keywords and boolean operators in google advanced search. "Cat man" AND Aleppo should get some results.

By 4th and 5th grade, they should be able to develop appropriate questions in response to reading and should be able to locate and evaluate information online to answer their questions..They should also be able to share what they are learning in using prose, poetry, drawings and technology. This is a great book to expand any of those skills. Have them create a google slide show, a google drawing, a comic book, a poster to highlight the answers to some of their questions.

How to help students develop their ability to ask good questions.

Use a provocation: Sometimes children don't want to ask questions, but wait for a prompt from the teacher, so that they know they will be looking for the "right" thing to get a grade. A provocation is not a question, but a statement that encourages the reader to think and respond. Try" War is always a bad thing" This is a good provocation because it does not have a yes or no answer and it is not a question. The statement is not always true, but may sometimes be true and requires some form of explanation. 4th and 5th graders should be developing the awareness that there is not simple, concrete answer to most things and will be able to respond with their own questions and thought. For more information on developing questioning skills in students, please sign up by sending an email to jan@thecharterschoollibrarian for a free month long book club exploring the book "Make Just One Change" The asynchronous discussion will begin on 1 October 2020 and we will have a midmonth zoom for those of you who prefer to discuss "in person".


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