Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ghetto Life

I don't have any children. Maybe someday I will, and, if I do, I look forward to sharing with them not only the books that I read as a kid, but also the many beautiful books that have been published since. One of my favorites of the newer books, however, presents a bit of a quandary for me:
At what age does one tell a child about the uglier side of the world in which we live?

The Cats in Krasinski Square is a children's book about life in Warsaw, Poland, during the Nazi occupation. The eponymous felines are the abandoned pets of Jewish families who have been moved into the ghettos (or worse). The cats now wander the streets of Warsaw, surviving on mice, with " no one to kiss their velvet heads." A young Jewish girl lives outside the ghetto with her sister Mira, hiding their heritage: "I wear my Polish look. I walk my Polish walk. Polish words float from my lips. and I am almost safe, almost invisible . . ."

The book is  beautifully illustrated by Wendy Watson with prose by Karen Hesse that is both lovely and haunting. The nastier aspects of that period in history are only hinted at in this story. We know that the little girl misses her friend Michal, still living somewhere "behind the Wall of the Ghetto." She refers to her sister as "my brave sister, Mira, all that is left of our family." We know that Mira and a young man named Arik are working with others to get food into the ghetto, but the Gestapo will try to stop them - the Gestapo and their dogs.
This is where the cats come into the story, and you'll just have to read it to find out what happens next.
The Cats in Krasinski Square is, at times, sad, suspenseful, funny, and beautiful. I look forward to sharing it with my hypothetical future children - even if it means that I may have to answer some tough questions about our world when the story is finished.
Look for it in your local library, or, better yet, buy a copy. See if you are as moved by this book as I am.

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