Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Cats in Krasinksi Square

The Cats in Krasinski Square

Written by: Karen Hesse
Illustrated by: Wendy Watson
Recommended Ages: 9 and up

This is a beautifully written, lyrical picture book about a little known incident that happened during the Holocaust. Putting a recommended age down is difficult, because of the subject matter. But, if read with an adult, it is a wonderful story about a young girl's innovative plan for tricking the Germans and aiding the Jews.

An unnamed Jewish girl lives outside of the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto with her sister Mira, who is in the Resistance. Somehow they managed to escape and live as Poles, not Jews; although they worry about their friends who are on the other side of the wall.

"I wear my Polish look.
I walk my Polish walk.
Polish words float from my lips
and I am almost safe,
almost invisible,
moving through Krasinksi Square
past the dizzy girls riding the merry-go-round."

The girl has befriended many cats that squeeze in and out of the Ghetto between the cracks. She imagines the homes they once lived in and gives them attention, but not food. She and her sister come up with a plan to hide food in the cracks of the wall for their friends on the other side. Unfortunately on the day of their plan, they find out that the Gestapo knows what they want to do. So the little girl comes up with an alternate plan, and they gather as many cats as possible and put them into baskets. They head down to the train station and wait behind the soldiers and their dogs for the train to pull in. As the passengers stream off, the little girl and other members of the Resistance open their baskets and let the cats out. Chaos erupts as the dogs chase the cats, and the soldiers are distracted. They are able to smuggle food through the wall into the Ghetto.

Children will appreciate that the little girl came up with the plan and that the cats were heroes in the story. Younger children may take the story at face value and leave it at that. Older children will want to know more, which is why it's critical for an adult to be there to answer the questions that most certainly will arise. Hesse does an admirable job of telling the story and there are both an author's note and historical note at the end that are critical reading for the somewhat older child. In fact, I would recommend that these notes be read prior to the actual story, as I think they will give it more relevance. The Holocaust is never an easy subject to broach with young readers, but The Cats of Krasinski Square shows how one little girl made a difference and it actually ends on a hopeful note.

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