I picked this book off the library shelf because I saw that it was about cats, and we love cat books around here. Well, it turned out to be quite serious subject matter. I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to talking to my eldest son about serious topics. There are certain things about WWII I just don't think a 6 year old needs to know yet.
I'm not a creative writer, but I'm guessing it is fairly difficult to write a children's picture book set in the WWII Warsaw Ghetto, and even more difficult to write such a book that would not be too frightening for this age. Karen Hesse's The Cats in Krasinski Square avoids both. Hesse based her book on an article she read abut cats who outsmarted the Gestapo at a Warsaw train station. In Hesse's book, a young girl narrates a story in which a plan to smuggle food inside the Ghetto is almost thwarted by the Gestapo. The heroes of the story are the cats, who confuse the Gestapo's dogs at the station.
Hesse's soft and lyrical text, as well as Wendy Watson's gentle palette, mitigate the harsh reality of the Warsaw Ghetto. Hesse's attention to the cats' loyalty and reciprocated love for their human companions is a wise choice and helps make the topic approachable for parents like me. Even as I was still debating whether or not to read it to my 6 year old, he picked it out and read it himself. The suggested age range is grades 3-5.
It's a well-written book about a sensitive topic. I hope you remember this book when your children begin learning about World War II.
Even in Australia left a comment below suggesting this terrific review which also talks about another book about cats and the Holocaust.
Read more about the author.
Visit the illustrator's webpage. She illustrated one of my favorite childhood books: Father Fox's Penny Rhymes.
Bearing Witness Through Picture Books: a list of books about the Holocaust at School Library Journal.
Never Forget focuses on books for children about the Holocaust.
Big Kid says: I like those cats.