THE CATS IN KRASINSKI SQUARE
Release date: 09/01/2004
In her spare yet lyrical narrative, Newbery medalist Hesse (Out of the Dust ) relays a haunting story based on an actual incident involving Poland's Warsaw Ghetto. Watson, best known for Father Fox's Pennyrhymes , makes a stunning stylistic departure here, with artwork in muted tones of brown, gold and brick red.
An aerial view of Krasinski Square on the title spread depicts buildings with gaping holes that define a plaza overrun with tanks and soldiers. Into this atmosphere, author and illustrator introduce the young narrator, who approaches a line of stray cats emerging from a pile of rubble. "I look like any child/ playing with cats/ in the daylight/ in Warsaw,/ my Jewish armband/ burned with the rags I wore/ when I escaped the Ghetto." The girl comforts the many homeless cats who "belonged once to someone /[and] slept on sofa cushions/ and ate from crystal dishes," whispering to them that she has "no food to spare." Yet she has more to eat than her friend Michal, who lives on the other side of the Wall.
The child's older sister, Mira ("all that is left of our family"), describes the "newest plan" to smuggle food into the Ghetto: friends will come by train, hiding food in their satchels, which the sisters and others will sneak through the cracks in the Wall. When word comes that the Gestapo has caught wind of the plan and will meet the train with dogs to sniff out the smugglers, the narrator comes up with a plan of her own to foil the Nazis.
Watson achieves an impressive versatility with her pencil, ink and watercolor artwork; her fine ink line emphasizes the starkness of the Ghetto's confines while her warmly toned watercolor wash conveys the coziness of Mira's home, spare though it may be. Other touches—the almost comical chaos that erupts at the train station in a flurry of cats and dogs, and the town carousel, a universal mark of childhood—allow readers to experience the terrifying events from somewhat of a cushioned distance. Author and artist take a complex situation and make its most important aspects comprehensible to a child. Older readers will most appreciate the bravery and intelligence of this impressive heroine. Ages 7-10. (Sept.)