Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's Complicated

My son checked a new picture book out of his school library last week, "The Cats in Kraskinski Square." He'd chosen it, he said, because it was sitting on top of the shelf and it was opened to a page with a picture of a giant steam engine. My son is a sucker for giant steam engines. He took the book back to his classroom and started reading. When he came home, he handed it to me and asked me to read the story. Because the book wasn't about trains at all, it turns out. It was about the Holocaust.

Until last week, my son knew nothing about World War II, and I would have waited even longer before trying to explain that particular chapter in world history. There are many chapters I haven't tried explaining yet. I'm fortunate. Because throughout the world we have 6-year-olds LIVING THROUGH the things we'd like to protect them from.

As books on this subject go, I'd easily recommend the one my son picked, which is written by Karen Hesse with illustrations by Wendy Watson. I just would have picked it three years from now.

The story is about a little girl who has escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and is trying to get food to the people inside. She keeps playing with these cats that roam around the town -- cats who no one owns anymore. When the Gestapo finds out that the people are trying to smuggle food into the ghetto, the girl and her sister round up the cats and put them in their baskets. The cats are released, the Gestapo's dogs chase the cats, and the food makes it to the hands of the starving people. My son got the nuances -- no one owns the cats because the owners are dead. The girl and her sister are all that's left of their own little family because their parents and brother are dead. There's no escaping that. But people are fighting back, and in this one instance, at least, they win at their task -- appreciated for this age group because I think one of the hardest things for a kid is the idea that he can't do anything about the horrible things that are happening in the world. (That's one of the hardest things for me, too!)

My son asked to read it again and again -- his way, I think, of trying to understand. Had he not already tried reading it in school by himself, I absolutely would have steered him away until he was older. I still haven't said anything to the librarian. I haven't quite figured out how to approach it, I guess. Just like I haven't quite figured out how to approach this post, so I'm ending it here...