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The Cats in Krasinski Square Hardcover – September 1, 2004

4.9 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 3-5–Set in Warsaw in 1942, this picture book brings to life a little-known incident of Jewish resistance. A young girl who has escaped the Ghetto lives with her older sister who, with friends, plans to smuggle food to those still there. Somehow the Gestapo has heard of the plan and has designs of its own–dogs to sniff out the bundles of food arriving with the resisters on a train. With quick thinking, the friends gather all of the cats living in Krasinski Square into baskets and head for the station. Just as the train pulls in, the felines are let loose, the dogs chase the cats, chaos erupts, and eventually the contraband is passed through the chinks in the Ghetto wall. Illustrated by Watson in an arresting departure from her usual style in muted tans, browns, and oranges, the cats, the people, the buildings of Warsaw, and even the snarling dogs are bathed in a warm yellow light–a kind of innocent luminescence of hope that belies the evil that is being done. The play of light and the naturalness of the cats' poses are almost a comfort in a story that adults sense as keenly distressing, and that beckons for adult interpretation or guidance. What is clear is the immediate poignancy of these cats and the author's evocative language in describing them: "They belonged once to someone. They slept on sofa cushions… they purred… nuzzling the chins of their beloveds." They could be the Polish Jewry of the Warsaw Ghetto.–Harriett Fargnoli, Great Neck Library, NY
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gr. 2-5. In luminous free verse, Hesse's latest picture book tells a powerful story of a young Jewish girl who, together with her older sister, ingeniously fights the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. After escaping from the Jewish ghetto, the girl avoids detection: "I wear my Polish look, / I walk my Polish walk. / Polish words float from my lips / and I am almost safe, / almost invisible." She finds joy in playing with the city's abandoned cats, who show her holes in the ghetto wall, which the girl's older sister and their resistance friends will use to pass supplies shipped by train to Warsaw. The Gestapo learns of the scheme, and soldiers wait at the train station with dogs. Luckily, the cats inspire a solution; they distract the dogs and protect the supplies. It's an empowering story about the bravery and impact of young people, and Hesse's clear, spare poetry, from the girl's viewpoint, refers to the hardships suffered without didacticism. In bold, black lines and washes of smoky gray and ochre, Watson's arresting images echo the pared-down language as well as the hope that shines like the glints of sunlight on Krasinski Square. An author's note references the true events and heartbreaking history that inspired this stirring, expertly crafted story. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 - 10 years
  • Grade Level: 2 - 5
  • Lexile Measure: 990L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press; First Edition edition (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0439435404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0439435406
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 12.2 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've always been a bit skittish about fictionalizing events from WWII in children's picture books. When done well (as with Roberto Innocenti's, "Rose Blanche") it can be a heartfelt way of teaching children about horrific events. When done poorly (as with Carmen Agra Deedy's magnificently insulting/patronizing, "The Yellow Star") it can turn you off of historical picture book fiction completely. Now in the case of Karen Hesse's, "The Cats In Krasinski Square", the story is based on real events the author read in a short article. After researching the event and meticulously making sure she would cite what she changed and what she didn't, Hesse wrote this one-of-a-kind book. It tells the tale of a Jewish girl during WWII and the ways in which stray cats became heroes in their own right.

A girl sits on a heap of rubble surrounded by cats. It's Warsaw and the girl has escaped the Jewish ghetto to live hidden in plain sight with her sister. So many Jews had to leave their homes and abandon their pets, that the cats have no one to love them anymore. Says the girl, " `I have no food to spare'. The cats don't care". She loves them and that's all that they need at this time. Heading home again, the girl and her older sister are to participate in a plan to smuggle food to the people of the ghetto. Yet before they do they're told that the supplies coming in on the next train are in danger. Somehow the Gestapo have discovered the plan and are waiting with dogs at the station to sniff out the smugglers. It's the little girl who comes up with a way to lead the dogs astray and give the smugglers the chance they'll need to escape. And all thanks to a basketload of cats.

As an author, Hesse is probably better known for her verse novels than her picture books.
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Format: Hardcover
This title was named a 2004 Sydney Taylor Honor Book by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

This is a lyrical story based on a little-known WWII incident, in which "cats [outfoxed] the Gestapo" in Warsaw. In Hesse's version, a girl who has escaped the Warsaw Ghetto befriends the lonely, ownerless cats in Krasinski Square. When her friends in the Resistance despair of getting food to friends behind the Ghetto wall, the girl suggests that they use the cats to distract the Nazi's dogs. The ensuing mayhem allows them to sneak the food into the Ghetto.

The book is beautifully crafted. Hesse's signature spare style and Watson's understated drawings create a Holocaust story with a light touch. An end note provides context, explaining the incident itself and WWII in general.

This is a book that older readers, familiar with the Holocaust and the story of the Warsaw Ghetto, will appreciate. It does NOT make an appropriate introduction to Holocaust history for those unfamiliar with the subject.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
They know
I can offer only
a gentle hand,
a tender voice.
They have no choice but to come.
They belonged once to someone.
They slept on sofa cushions
and ate from crystal dishes.
They purred,
furrowing the chest,
nuzzling the chins of their beloveds.

Thus begins this amazing work by Karen Hess and illustrated by Wendy Watson. This story was taken from a small article the author read concerning the cats of the Warsaw Ghetto during the take-over by the German Army, April 1943. A young Jewish Girl and her sister have escaped the fate suffered by so many, only because they could pass for "Polish," and were able to avoid being confined to this area in Warsaw. They were able to smuggle food to those trapped on the other side. Having problems finding food for themselves, a plan was made to bring food in from outside the city. Somehow the Gestapo found out about these plans and made their own plans to capture those who were trying to bring the food in.

The young girl, her sister, and others gathered the now stray cats from Krasinski Square, secreted them in bundles and were waiting at the station when the smugglers brought the bundles of food into the station. At just the moment when the Gestapo closed in with their dogs, the people released the cats and in the pandemonium which followed the people were able to escape with their food bundles.

My goodness, what a lovely work, used to tell of such a horrible even in our history. The author's flawless use of simple free verse is most effective in this case. The artist's light, almost glowing use of the brush and color adds almost a surrealistic feel to such a dark event. To be frank, I cannot remember reading anything quite like this work.
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