Center for Children's Literature Blog

Children’s Book Committee – December 2020 Pick

The Cat I Never Named
Authors: Amra Sabic-El-Rayess with Laura Sullivan
Illustrator: Shazleen Kah

Love, resourcefulness, and a faithful cat give Muslim teenager Amra and her family the strength to survive the Bosnian genocide, 1992-1995. Spot illustrations, resources. (16-18).

Our Young Reviewer Says:

The Bosnian War is a conflict I had never heard before prior to reading this book. However, for Amra the war was the most influential factor of her late childhood. I’m so grateful that I was able to learn about it from this book. It is a brutal reminder that our social studies textbooks may gloss over many world events that occurred outside of our little bubble of United States history. Nonetheless, this fact does not make these events
any less significant.

To achieve world peace we must first look at every war and battle, grieve for every life lost, sympathize for everyone affected by the war and not just the leaders and heroes but also the regular citizens just trying to survive, and most importantly we must teach others about these events so we can prevent them from occurring again.

The first reason anyone should read this book is to learn about then Bosnian War. But, there is so much more to this book that the readers will stay for, such as Amra’s family. I have never seen a type of love so resilient. Missiles fly over their heads, starvation looms closer as their food supplies decrease, the Serbs remain a constant threat to their city, yet their love is unwavering. They sacrifice so much for each other.

Amra’s Tata risks his own health to help the army. Amra and her brother hide their fear in an attempt to ease their parent’s own terror. With the amount of emotion Amra conveys in her retellings of her experiences, it is impossible for the reader not to become deeply invested in her family.

However, my favorite thing about this book is its message of hope, in the form of an adorable, affectionate cat, Maci. When the struggles of the war become too overwhelming, Maci is always there to provide comfort. She motivates her family to keep trying when they want to give up. Whenever she gets lost or separated from the family she never fails to find her way back to the people she loves. She shows that nothing, not even a war can overcome the power of hope. With everything going on in the world today anyone will benefit from reading this book. Against all odds Amra was able to not only survive the war, but was able to grow as a person and thrive. Using her lessons of family, hope, and survival we will all be able to thrive too.

–Anna, 14, Mt. Sinai, NY.

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See our Monthly Picks Archive 2012–2018, and our Monthly Picks 2019–present.