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Home > Children's Books > Spirit of the Cheetah: A Somali Tale

cover of Spirit of the Cheetah

Available now

at your local bookseller or your favorite online book retailer.

Spirit of the Cheetah: A Somali Tale
by: Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
illustrated by: Julia Cairns
Subject(s): Age(s) / Grade level

Juvenile Fiction: Animals / Lions, Tigers, Leopards, etc.

4 – 8 and up

Format: Size / page count:


10" × 9" / 40 pages

ISBN: Date available:


Available now




Young Roblay runs through his Somali village practicing for the big race, where only the fastest runners will be declared men. He turns for advice to his grandfather, who tells Roblay of the mighty Shabelle River, which is strong and swift like a cheetah. Roblay must capture that spirit if he is to finish among the winners of the race and become a man.

Inspired by her father’s storytelling, Khadra Mohammed joins Karen Lynn Williams in retelling this Somali coming-of-age tale, beautifully illustrated by artist Julia Cairns. The story of a proud people who once lived together peacefully and drew wisdom from the animals, it is sure to generate enthusiastic discussion in the classroom. An appendix provides further information on the cheetah—the fastest land animal on earth and now an endangered species.

Karen Lynn Williams is a teacher, writing instructor, and award-winning children’s book author who has published over 15 books for children. Karen has lived and worked in Malawi and Haiti and has been an instructor in writing programs at Seton Hill University, Chatham University, and the Institute for Children’s Literature. She is the author of Galimoto, Tap-Tap, and Circles of Hope. Karen lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Khadra Mohammed was executive director of the Pittsburgh Refugee Center from 2003 to 2015. She is Somali, grew up in the UAE, and has worked with refugees and immigrants in the U.S. and in refugee camps around the world for more than thirty years. She and Karen Lynn Williams previously collaborated on the acclaimed Four Feet, Two Sandals and My Name is Sangoel. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Julia Cairns is a fine artist and illustrator known for her colorful images and joyous, whimsical style. She has illustrated 11 books for children, including the award-winning We All Went on Safari, Mama Panya’s Pancakes, and A Full Moon is Rising. Julia’s work can be found in collections around the world and has been featured on many products from calendars to fabric. She lives with her husband in Galisteo, New Mexico.

Awards & Honors
  • Distinguished Favorite in the “Multicultural” category of the 2022 NYC Big Book Awards
  • Silver Medal in the “Interior Design” category of the 2022 Midwest Book Awards


“Mohammed and Williams (Four Feet, Two Sandals, illustrated by Doug Chayka, 2007) team up again to tell a tale of a boy in Somalia who draws on tradition to excel.… Roblay’s personal goal, his supportive family, and his rich cultural tradition weave together in a lovely story of determination and perseverance. Cairns’ illustrations use delicate strokes to depict vast, green natural landscapes, simple homes, and dignified people who respect the local wildlife. Readers will delight in the suspense and satisfaction that build and bind this layered tale. Another successful collaboration that will win minds and hearts. (cheetah facts) (Picture book. 3-8)
— from a review in Kirkus Reviews
“Inspired by her father's storytelling, Khadra Mohammed joins Karen Lynn Williams in retelling Spirit of the Cheetah, a Somali coming-of-age folk tale that is beautifully illustrated throughout by artist Julia Cairns. This is the charmingly entertaining story of a proud people who once lived together peacefully and drew wisdom from the animals. An appendix provides further information on the cheetah — the fastest land animal on earth and now an endangered species.

Spirit of the Cheetah: A Somali Tale is especially and unreservedly recommended for family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library picture book Folktale collections.”
— from a review in Children's Bookwatch, The Folktale/Fairytale Shelf, an online publication
“… a Somali coming-of-age story, exuberantly illustrated by Julia Cairns, whose ten years spent in Botswana have given her deep appreciation for the resilience and fortitude of the people of Africa.… Spirit of the Cheetah — written for ages four to eight — serves not only as a story of becoming a man, but also as inspiration for any young wildlife enthusiasts who might someday join the fight to save vulnerable species.”
— from a review in Spirituality & Practice, an online publication
a sample spread from the book “Esther’s Gragger: A Toyshop Tale of Purim”, written by Martha Seif Simpson and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard

A sample spread from the book The Spirit of the Cheetah, written by
Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed and illustrated by Julia Cairns

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