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.
This 72 page graphic novel features a female Muslim protagonist trying to balance her desire to be a great cross country runner and the rest of her life. Meant for 3rd graders, the lessons are applicable and relevant for readers in middle school as well.
Nimo Mohamed has made the varsity track team, and is determined to keep up with the older girls. She is training too hard which her coaches and parents warn her against, but she doesn’t listen. As a result she is lying to her family about what she is doing, her grades are suffering, and her body is exhausted to say the least. After coming dead last in a meet, getting a D on an English test, and injuring her knee, the truth comes out and her dad has her quit the team. Can she convince him to give her one more chance? Can she learn to pace herself?
WHY I LIKE IT:
There is nothing Islamic in the book except for the main character’s family. The women wear hijab when out, not at home and they have Islamic sounding names. I like that she is modestly dressed when she runs and that no one seems to care that she is Muslim. This story is not about her faith, it is a universal story of balance, and the character highlighting the moral is Muslim. Her parents are divorced, but are on the same page regarding her running and school balancing act, and they come together to support her. I also like that the book is a sports book and has a female girl of color as the lead. There is a lot of very intentional diversity in the book and it is refreshing to see.
There are questions at the end, and running vocabulary and tips for running as well.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
The book wouldn’t lend itself well to a book club, but would definitely provide one-on-one discussion opportunities. The short linear story is all about imparting teachable moments on the reader, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think the real strength is that the book is one of a larger series that should really be in every classroom and library to show how balance and integrity and strength and diversity are values that we need to hear over and over, not just in one running book, but from a lot of different sources.