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*All the Cats of Cairo* by Inda Schaenen- young readers fantasy book review

All the Cats of Cairo
by Inda Schaenen
Ages 10-16 226 pages Brown Barn Books May 2007 Paperback    

The cats of Cairo, both alive and dead, need thirteen-year-old Maggie Underwood’s voice; she is the one who has been chosen to speak for them.

Maggie and her parents have left their home in Washington for a new life in Egypt. They will spend one year in Cairo while her mother, a foreign diplomat, facilitates a deal between American and Egyptian businessman. Bill Ramsey wants to buy one of the famous cotton factories in Zagazig, Egypt, but his intentions are criminal, and his disreputable plans for the business need to be stopped before they cause insurmountable damage to the people and sacred lands of Zagazig.

Trying to adjust to the crowds, high noise and pollution levels of seventeen million people, Maggie seems to have an immediate connection with the stray cats of Cairo. When Maggie and her father visit a four thousand-year-old obelisk and she amazingly discovers and deciphers her initials in the hieroglyphs on the obelisk, a stray cat speaks to her for the first time. They speak her initialed name, and as the story goes on, the cats leave important messages for her and others using fish and dead rats.

Through ancient stories and beliefs told to Maggie as well as detailed descriptions of the sights and sounds of Cairo, the author incorporates her interest in ancient Egypt. It’s in an old cemetery, where some people live in close proximity with the dead, that Maggie meets Oum and her grandson, Tareq. Oum lends Maggie the powerful figurine of the Goddess Bastet. This figurine, with the head of a cat and the body of a woman, communicates with and through Maggie in a variety of amazing ways. With guidance from Bastet and her cat agents, not to mention her new friend Tareq, Maggie is on a quest to keep the sacred grounds of Zagazig safe and peaceful - not only for Bastet’s spirit but for the human spirit, too.

Maggie protects many lives in this story – she keeps alive a family of kittens living in her building, rescues a six-year-old boy in hiding, and even frees a group of child laborers. Throughout, Maggie is part defender and part rescuer; by story’s end, she is also a listener. Wherever she lives, she is determined to pay attention to calls for help. Growing in this way not only alleviates Maggie’s stuttering; it helps her gain confidence in speaking up and being herself.

This is Inda Schaenen’s first book for young adults. Her previous books include The 7 O’Clock Bedtime and Things are Really Crazy Right Now. In All the Cats of Cairo, she tells an entertaining story set in modern Cairo but revolving around ancient beliefs.

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  Tanya Boudreau/2007 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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