On September 1st, seventy-five years ago, German forces swept into Poland to open one of the most demented chapters of the last century. A year later, Jews were forced into the infamous Warsaw Ghetto (pictured above) to be eliminated by starvation, exposure and infectious disease: after the Ghetto was liquidated, the Germans used camps to work their evil. Despite the grim nature of the Ghetto, Karen Hesse brought a kid safe story of resistance to us in the form of The Cats in Krasinki Square.
This is the tale of two Jewish sisters who have escaped the Ghetto and are posing as Poles in Warsaw. As the only survivors of their family, they have joined the resistance and sneak food to their friends within the Ghetto. But the Gestapo learns of their scheme to bring food in on a train and plot to sniff them out with a team of dogs. Undaunted the resistance releases cats all over the train station throwing the dogs into confusion and allowing the precious food to slip into the Ghetto.
Hesse’s smooth prose flows seamlessly through this story, masterfully balancing the atrocities of the Holocaust with the innocence of her target audience. Likewise, Wendy Watson‘s illustrations bring us the tension of the story without traumatizing students.
It’s extremely rare that I can bring such a harsh topic to young readers with confidence that the material is suited to my first graders. But once in a great while, I cross paths with such a book. The Cats in Krasinki Square is that book.