Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Cats in Krasinski Square

The Cats in Krasinski Square
by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Wendy Watson, 2004

Writing for children about the Holocaust takes a special gift. It can be difficult to communicate the horror of those years to young readers without delving into atrocities and concentration camps. Gifted writer Karen Hesse has brought us a true story that can be shared in picture book form.

The opening lines of the story set the scene, “The cats come from the cracks in the Wall, the dark corners, the openings in the rubble." The "Wall" is the wall around the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1939, the German Gestapo crowded Jews into this area of the city where the horrible conditions caused starvation, disease and death.

The young narrator of the story has escaped the ghetto and is "passing" as an Aryan on the other side of the wall. She fears for her friend Michal who is still inside the ghetto. Her sister, Mira is part of the Resistance and they have a plan to smuggle food to the people behind the wall. When the Germans find out about the plan and move to thwart it, the Resistance turns to the abandoned cats of the city to save the day and the food.

Wendy Watson's illustrations are lovely. Her style and color palette take us back to this time period. Seeing the pictures of the merry-go-round and the holes in the wall was especially evocative having just read Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.

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