By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Anne Frank was one of eight Jewshiding from the Nazis in a secret annex in her father’s office building during the German occupation of the Netherlands. But it wasn’t only people living in those rooms in Amsterdam. Peter, one of the eight, brought his beloved pet, Mouschi, the cat.
Mouschi is central to a new children’s book by Chicago native Steve Jay Rubin and co-author David Lee Miller from Milwaukee titled, “The Cat Who Lived With Anne Frank.” Told from the point of view of the cat, the book is illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, the New York Times bestselling illustrator of “I Dissent,” a picture book about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In Anne Frank’s diary, she writes about Mouschi several times. The children’s book for four to eight-year-olds is designed to “acquaint a new generation of young people with the lessons of Anne Frank and the Holocaust. It’s a critical time with the rise of anti-Semitism in the country. Thirty percent of adults have never heard of the Holocaust, a disturbing figure,” Rubin said.
Rubin now works as a producer and screenwriter in Los Angeles. In a nod to his Chicago roots, he made his producing debut for Showtime in 2001 on the baseball comedy “Bleacher Bums,” based on Cub fans.
Rubin and his co-author had never written a children’s book in their long collaboration although they partnered on an award-winning film about teen suicide. “We just began to realize that an amazing story could be told from a different perspective on Anne Frank.”
The cat Mouschi can explore the streets of Amsterdam, something Anne could not do. Through the cat, a reader sees how dangerous it is to be outside. “Everywhere there are police, road blocks, checkpoints. You are learning about what Anne went through but also Amsterdam is the story.”
The book is a poetic story from the cat’s point of view. “It’s not a hard and fast history lesson, though everything in the book is researched and factually correct,” Rubin said. The illustrator studied authentic texts in Amsterdam to turn out her realistic looking illustrations. “We are wanting to give the experience of what it was like.”
The two collaborators have written a feature length animated screen play that delves into the story further from Mouschi’s perspective. “We have a marvelous collaboration. We are very different writers. I’m more of a nonfiction researcher, he’s more poetic and creative.
“When I started working on Mouschi, I was allergic to cats. I am no longer,” Rubin said.
Their book publisher is Philomel Books/Penguin Random House. “The Cat Who Lived With Ann Frank” is available at all bookstores and online.
The new book is one of several that tell the story of Anne and her diary for very young readers.
“We are appealing to such a young tender age. We stay away from the graphic descriptions of the Holocaust,” Rubin said, though the books do show drawings of Nazi soldiers and swastikas. “Anne Frank’s story has always been a gentler path. The story resonates with young people. A typical teen-age girl going through problems, but trying to live trapped in an annex, trying to hide from Nazis.”
Rubin and Miller recently presented the book at a forum at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles with a reading by actress Zoe Lister-Jones. The authors plan to visit cities that have Holocaust museums to draw Jewish audiences to the book. “We’ve started reaching out to the Jewish community to let everyone know it exists and we’re targeting a new generation of young people,” Rubin said.