This timeless 40 page tale of a young boy as he prepares for his right of passage into adulthood is rich with wisdom, culture, and tradition. So many gentle lessons can be found in the book, as it leaves deeper understanding and connection to be felt and explored long after the book has been closed and returned to the shelf. There are seemingly hijab wearing #muslimsintheillustrations, and the author’s name would suggest she is also a Muslim, but with the line, “Called on the spirit of Shabelle,” and talk of the “Spirit of the cheetah,” it is hard to know for sure if the main character is.
The story starts with Roblay running everywhere in preparation for an upcoming race where he hopes to place in the top three, and prove he is a man and no longer a boy. On the day of the race he races his fastest, but he does not come out at the top.
His grandfather, his Awoowo, tells him that to be successful he needs to capture the spirit of their people and leave his thumbprint on a cheetah’s coat. His grandfather then tells him about the cheetahs long ago and how the river is named after them. He explains that thumbprints on a cheetah’s fur honor those that have proven themselves.
Roblay trains and searches for many days. He wonders if it is enough to mark a cub. But his grandfather asks him if he wants to remain a cub. This motivates Roblay to work harder. When a year has passed and the race is about to take place again, he finally touches his cheetah.
He lines up for the race strong, proud and sleek, and he has the chance again to prove he is a man and make his family proud. Nope, not going to tell you how it ends.
The book starts with an Author’s notes from both authors and concludes with Notes on the Cheetah.