TeachingBooks Virtual Book Tour

The TeachingBooks Virtual Book Tour is your opportunity to learn from and build personal connections with extraordinary book creators and their brand-new titles. Included in all Virtual Book Tour posts are original interviews with authors and illustrators, lesson plans, an activity designed for young people, and much more!

Welcome Amra Sabic-El-Rayess

Amra Sabic-El-Rayess on The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival

In this post, we feature author Amra Sabic-El-Rayess. You can hear her speak about the inspiration for her debut memoir for young adults, The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival, and try her “invitation to imagine” activity. You’ll also find other resources to explore. Thanks for joining us, and let us know what you think in the comments below!


Author Amra Sabic-El-Rayess and the cover of her memoir The Cat I Never Named

The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival

  • Written by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, with Laura L. Sullivan
  • Published by Bloomsbury YA, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing
  • Release date: September 8, 2020

Amra was a teen in Bihac, Bosnia, when her friend said they couldn’t speak anymore because Amra was Muslim. Then, refugees from other cities started arriving, fleeing Serbian persecution. When Serbian tanks rolled into Bihac, the life she knew disappeared—right as a stray cat followed her home. Her family didn’t have the money to keep a pet, but after the cat seemed to save her brother, how could they turn it away? This memoir follows a teen who, even in the brutality of war, never wavered in her determination to obtain education, maintain friendships, and even find a first love—and the cat that provided comfort, and maybe even served as a guardian spirit, in the darkest of times.

From The Cat I Never Name: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival:

The war didn’t spring on me all at once.
Instead, like a cat, it stalked me quietly.
There might have been a rustle of leaves, a glint of golden eye.
But like a mouse, I didn’t believe it was there until it pounced.

Read a longer excerpt from The Cat I Never Named, written by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, with Laura Sullivan.

Explore The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival

Listen to Amra Sabic-El-Rayess talking with TeachingBooks about creating The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival. You can click the player below or experience the recording on TeachingBooks, where you can read along as you listen, and also translate the text to another language.


Invitation to Imagine

TeachingBooks asks each author or illustrator on our Virtual Book Tour to share a writing prompt, a drawing exercise, or just an interesting question to spark curiosity and creativity. Enjoy the following activity contributed by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess.

Imagination Activity with Amra Sabic-El-Rayess

We all experience books differently depending on what kind of learners we are. Once you read The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival, please choose one of the following activities depending on whether you are an artist, engineer, writer, or history student!

What is a scene from The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival that is particularly memorable to you? If you are an artist or engineer, please paint, draw, sketch, or build that scene. If you are a writer, please write a paragraph on why that scene was most memorable to you. Alternatively, you can also write a brief poem that captures your emotions and thoughts after reading that particular scene. If you are a history student, please explain in a paragraph how that scene helped you understand what happened during the genocide against Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina?


Finish This Sentence . . . with Amra Sabic-El-Rayess

As part of our Virtual Book Tour, TeachingBooks asks authors and illustrators to complete short sentence prompts. Enjoy Amra Sabic-El-Rayess’s response.

“A surprising thing that helps we work is . . .”

A surprising thing that helps me work is listening to old folk songs (called sevdalinka) from Bosnia and Herzegovina. They evoke my memories and emotions. Once my imagination starts flowing, I can write for hours, often until my hands start to hurt from typing. Here is one sevdalinka called “Why are you not here?/Što te Nema?” that has become a symbol of the genocide against Bosniaks and those who are never coming back.

“While working on this book, I was surprised to discover…”

 While working on this book, I was surprised to discover that it is empowering to tell your own story. I have taught for over 25 years, first when I just graduated from high school during the war (because many teachers were injured, killed or on the front lines) and now as a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. But, I never realized that as a victim of ethnic/racial/religious hatred and violence, writing this book would empower and liberate me from the pain I have carried inside me for a long time. I share more about how you can self-empower and empower others by telling your own story and by educating yourself in the Inaugural Charo Uceda Women’s Empowerment Lecture , which I delivered at Columbia University in November of 2019.

“I hope that my book may encourage young readers to think about…”

I hope that my book may encourage kids and teens (as well as adults) to think about how damaging hatred can be. Love is a powerful emotion, but hatred can blind humans and lead them to commit crimes against humanity and genocide. I wrote The Cat I Never Named to warn against hatred and help us build collective empathy. I hope that teens who read my book will be inspired to counter hate and be kinder to others around them after reading my story.

And as a final note, here is the cat at the center of my story, shown below being nursed back to health as a kitten:

The kitten who is a the center of Amra Sabic-El-Rayess's memoir The Cat I Never Named.

Thank you!

To wrap up this Virtual Book Tour, we thank Amra Sabic-El-Rayess for signing a book for all of us.

Author Amra Sabic-El-Rayess shown signing a book for the TeachingBooks audience.

More Connections to Amra Sabic-El-Rayess and The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival


Explore all of the titles featured in the TeachingBooks Virtual Book Tour: one link with author interviews, lesson plans, activities, and more!

All text and images are courtesy of Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, Laura L. Sullivan, and Bloomsbury Publishing and may not be used without expressed written consent.

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