Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Not To Be Separated

When an animal is taken into your home it becomes a member of the family.  It looks to you for its well-being.  Regardless of the animal, they are far more astute to the routines and emotional state of the household than we may imagine.  If change is happening, they will note the subtlest difference.

If this shift in the norm is any kind of trauma or disaster, natural or man-made, the fate of these animal family members rests squarely on their humans.  Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey (Crown Books for Young Readers, January 31, 2017) written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes with illustrations by Sue Cornelison is about a family fleeing a dangerous life.  They refuse to leave their cat.

Late one night in August 2015, a car driven by a smuggler snuck out of the city of Mosul, in the country of Iraq.  

With the loss of her husband and their father, a woman and her five children sought sanctuary away from the dangers of continuing to live in Iraq.  Each family member had something to carry.  Food and water filled their bags along with one more passenger, their family cat, Kunkush.  They needed to keep his presence hidden.

The family was passed from smuggler to smuggler but they always kept Kunkush farthest away from the leader.  They walked and walked.  After four days they reached a village where another person took them by bus to Istanbul, Turkey.  It was not easy to keep the cat hidden as they moved from place to place within the city for two weeks.

In time they were taken to the coast to cross the Aegean Sea to journey to the island of Lesbos in Greece.  They had to walk three miles on the beach to the place where they were instructed to put on life vests.  Sixty people were packed into a rubber boat meant to carry twenty-five.  This did not work and the boat went back to the shore.

As people were jostling around Sura, the mother, told her children to remain on the raft but Kunkush's carrier latch was damaged.  Three hours later the family reached their destination.  In order to help them disembark, Hakam, the son, put Kunkush's carrier on shore.  It was a means of escape for the cat.

Days, weeks and months passed.  Kunkush, now named Dias for the Greek god Zeus, was in the care of a volunteer named Amy.  Amy and her friends were determined to find the missing family for this cat.  Flyers, social media and a trip from Greece to Germany yielded no results.  Then on February 14, 2016 something remarkable occurred.

The loss of a spouse and parent weighs heavily on a family but to have to leave your home is a choice no one wants to make.  The decision to include Kunkush in the move seems to be a necessity; the tie that binds these people together.  As told by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes every step Sura, Rihab, Hakam, Maab, Ahab, and Ansab (the children were ages 18 to nine) took for days and weeks until the loss of Kunkush is told with complete clarity.  When Kunkush disappears, the story shifts to the particular details of his life.  In some respects the same conditions the cat faced when separated from his humans parallel those they were facing; fear, lack of safety, stranger in an unknown place but also unexpected kindness.

The efforts of those who found Kunkush are extraordinary but as told in this book, so were their reasons for being where they were at the time of his discovery.  Readers feel an immediate connection to this family, their cat and those who helped them all.  Here is a sample passage.

Almost as soon as the overcrowded boat launched, it began taking on water because it was too heavy.  From the shore, people shouted at the passengers to throw their belongings overboard to make the boat lighter, but most refused.  Sura tried to hold Kunkush's carrier above the water, until a wave drenched them all.

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case through the warmth of selected complementary colors, facial expressions, and body placement the deep and abiding love depicted envelopes the reader.  To the left, on the back, intricate lattice work has been placed in the upper corners in a red.  Beneath this is a photograph of Sura and Kunkush.  It is overlapped in the lower left corner with the illustrator's interpretation of Kunkush peeking from his carrier.

The opening endpapers feature the city at night.  In the window of a home one of the daughters holds Kunkush.  On the closing endpapers readers can view a selection of seven captioned photographs of the family and Kunkush after they are reunited.

Sue Cornelison uses darker but softened hues to capture the essence of this story.  The vibrant red seen on the front of the jacket and case is a unifying color throughout the story.  Alternating between double-page illustrations, single visuals, page edge to page edge or placed within a circular frame on one page or smaller images on a page, she supplies us with a pictorial rhythm found in the journey of this family and their cat.  The faces of the people and the cat mirror real emotion.

One of my favorite illustrations of several is on a single page.  It's a close-up of the people huddled on the overcrowded boat.  A mix of sadness, fear, terror and resolve is etched on all their faces.  This scene, while including Sura, the children and the carrier with Kunkush, is universal.  Behind the seventeen people are the sea and high waves and sky.  

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes with illustrations by Sue Cornelison is an extraordinary story of committed people.  It needs to be on all professional and personal bookshelves as an inspiration and as a testament to the journeys people and their animals make to seek a better life.  At the end is a note from Doug and Amy along with a map of Kunkush's journey.  This is followed by six more photographs of refugee arrivals, the wild cats on the island, Kunkush and Amy.

To learn more about Doug Kuntz and Sue Cornelison please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  A special website is dedicated to this title here.  Kunkush has a Twitter account!  At The Children's Book Review Amy Shrodes talks about My Writing & Reading Life.  This book and its story are featured in articles in The East Hampton Star and MLive Michigan. This title appears on book lists at A Mighty Girl and Brightly.

Please be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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