Mame Ventura, Kunkush: The True Story of a Refugee Cat

Raintree, 2018, ISBN 978-1-4747-4427-0

The book opens with a picture of a crowded inflatable boat out on the open sea at night. From the text we learn that it's November, that the sea is the Aegean and that there are men, women, children and babies on board. On the following page we see a family huddled together, and read about a widow with five children. They fled their home in Mosul where Islamist State extremists were fighting Iraqi soldiers for control of the city, then walked much of their way to Turkey, without possessions, but with their cat Kunkush in a basket. They paid smugglers to make the treacherous journey to Europe. The family arrived safely in Lesvos [Lesbos], but in the confusion Kunkush disappeared. By chance he was found by a volunteer who came to help the refugees. She and other volunteers looked after him and set up a Facebook campaign to trace the family. Kunkush was flown to Berlin, where a woman offered to help. The tale of the lost cat reached the international media. Kunkush's family saw it in Norway where they had settled, and contacted the Facebook campaign team. Before long Kunkush arrived at their new home and he and the family were very happy. Just a few months later though he died unexpectedly. 'As sad as his passing was, his life was a happy story. Because a few people cared enough to take action, a scared little cat and the family that loved him were reunited.'

In the last couple of years a number of excellent children's fiction and non-fiction books about refugees and migration have been published. It's a vital topic in today's world. This fascinating true story will be a very useful addition to library and classroom collections. The focus on one family and one situation means children will empathise easily. While they follow the cat's journey they will gain knowledge and understanding. Teachers will find lots of valuable starting points for discussion. The book ends with a glossary, lists of books and websites and some thought-provoking questions for children to write about, including this very interesting one: whether they think it was right or wrong for volunteers to spend so much time on a cat when so many people needed help.