By: Meg Wiviott
Illustrated by: Josee Bisaillon
Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing
Publication Date: January 2010
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: March 2010
Benno was a mottled orange and white cat who lived at Number 5 Rosenstrasse. He was curled up in the window for everyone to admire, for you see he belonged to everyone in the neighborhood. Hans the Hausmeister made sure he had a warm, cozy bed to cuddle up in at night and some "fresh milk" to soothe his tummy. If he rounded the corner past the street light he would pass Gerber's Grocery to the end of the block where Mitzi Stein's dress shop was, zig zag this way and that he would find himself at Neue Synagogue.
On the Sabbath it was time to visit the Adler family in 3A. The candles were lit and young Sophie would sing before she "fed him scraps of chicken." On Sundays it was time to visit the Schmidts across the hall where Inge, Sophie's friend, "sneaked bits of schnitzel to him under the table." When the girls were off to school he would wend his way around the neighborhood to get his ears scratched, his nose rubbed or take at nap at Mitzi's. Everyone loved him, including Professor Goldfarb in 2G who didn't even seem to notice when he curled up on top of his papers. Such was the life of a mottled orange and white cat named Benno who lived in Berlin.
Something was wrong when those who once had time for him no longer cared or shooed him away abruptly. There were bright orange and red flames that spread eerie shadows along the brick walls of the neighborhood and lit up the night and books were added to fuel the fire. People were somehow not where they were supposed to be and faces were downcast, sad and frightened. There were new faces that were held high and "men in brown shirts strutted about," not caring about a mottled orange and white cat who zig zagged around the corner from the Neue Synagogue. Something had changed, but what was happening? Where had Sophie and the other people he had to take care of gone to? And what was that sound of glass breaking?
This is a very poignant tale of Benno the cat who lost his "family" on Kristallnacht. Meg Wiviott quietly painted a portrait of his loving family neighborhood, their interrelationships and care they had for one another before those strange men in the brown shirts arrived to upend their lives. This story aptly demonstrated the upheaval and horrifying change that affected everything and everyone from the shopkeeper to a little mottled orange and white cat who loved them all. Parents, caretakers or teachers must decide for themselves when to introduce this stunning tale to children, based on their maturity to understand what actually transpired on Kristallnat, a night that marked "the beginning of the Holocaust." In the back of the book is a brief historical overview of that night (includes two photographs), and additional recommended children's book resources.
Quill says: This mesmerizing story with a powerful message is one you may wish to consider adding to your shelves!