The second part of my sister’s Raya book-present-bundle to my eldest, this delightful tale of a lonely young Muslim boy finding friendship through a lost cat was a joy to me and my 10 year-old (and had my perhaps overly-emotional sister in tears, lol.)
Saleem has just moved to a new city and desperately misses the friends and cousins who made up his old social circle. With Ramadan approaching, he also misses all the hustle and preparations that are surely going on where he was from, despite the best efforts of his parents to make up for it. But a lost cat appears in his backyard on the very first night of Ramadan, a cat who takes very quickly to Saleem and his parents. At first Saleem wants so much to keep Rami — nicknamed for the holy month — for himself, but an incident at the mosque makes him realize that the right and responsible thing to do is try to reunite the cat with its own family. But what will Saleem do when his only friend leaves him?
Tho I grumbled a little at the idea that Saleem had no friends despite being in a new school and mosque, I do understand that it can be difficult for some kids to make human friends vs animal. Robyn Thomas’ empathetic, understated tale evokes both the loneliness of the recently displaced as well as the seemingly magical comfort of an animal buddy. I imagine that she and artist Abira Das collaborated closely to ensure that the perfectly suited illustrations showed off the multicultural aspects of Saleem’s household (apple pie and Eid Mubarak balloons!) and neighborhood. It was a breath of fresh air to see a diversity of religions, races and abilities handled so matter-of-factly throughout.
My kid and I both really enjoyed this book, tho neither of us was moved to tears. My sister, thinking me hard-hearted, expects this of me, but demanded to know why Jms wasn’t crying either, at which we both laughed at her (but in a loving way.) While this book might provoke tears in the susceptible, it’s very much a sweet, gentle tale of friendship — animal or otherwise — empathy and doing the right thing. Most of all, it displays the ordinariness of contemporary American Muslim life in a way that felt more impactful, to me, for not being the main plot. The normalization of diversity, particularly in children’s books and especially without explicit exoticization, is one of my favorite modern publishing trends, and hopefully becomes the standard for the future.
Rami The Ramadan Cat by Robyn Thomas & Abira Das was published January 1st 2019 by Ruqaya’s Bookshelf and is currently out of print (tho hopefully that will change soon!)