April 23, 2019

Finding a Younger Audience with ‘The Cat Who Lived With Anne Frank’

The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank; Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. Courtesy of David Lee Miller and Steven Jay Rubin

Since it was first published in 1947, “The Diary of Anne Frank” has been adapted for film and stage, while the memoir itself has been republished and adapted with illustrations.

Seventy-two years after its first publication, David Lee Miller and Steven Jay Rubin decided to tell Anne’s story through a very different set of eyes: cat eyes. 

“The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank” (Penguin Random House Publishing), a new children’s book out now, invites readers to meet Mouschi, the cat who lived in the annex with the Frank family. 

Since the Holocaust is an important subject to teach and the number of survivors is decreasing, Miller, 62, of Westlake Village, and Rubin, 67 of Los Angeles, said they felt compelled to reach and educate a younger audience through a sweet, curious and adventurous cat.

“We were really sensitive to the subject. In no way did we ever want to trivialize the Holocaust,” Miller told the Journal in a joint phone interview with Rubin. “But in this time of hate — we have preschoolers getting active shooter drills — we focused on keeping it historically accurate about a slice of Anne’s life from the point of view of the cat who actually lived in the annex.” 

Rubin said people have a hard time dealing with copious amounts of depressing news, so stories about the Holocaust can be difficult to digest. Anne’s story allows them to talk about intense subjects and reach young people at the same time. 

“Anne Frank’s story has always been a gentle inspirational lead into historical events,” he said. “She didn’t realize that she was reaching out to millions of people who could identify with a young person writing under those extreme conditions. … She’s always been kind of a gateway to history. That’s why she’s very still much in the news.”

Through Mouschi’s eyes, the reader experiences a dangerous world filled with “black spiders” (Nazi soldiers), yellow stars (Jewish people), angry dogs and a world of hate from an omnipotent source. 

“What did the cat think of this strange situation where people never go outside, they tiptoe around all day, they can finally talk at night?” Rubin asked after pondering the idea one day while rewatching the 1959 “Diary of Anne Frank” film. 

“Through Mouschi the cat’s eyes, the reader experiences a dangerous world filled with ‘black spiders’ (Nazi soldiers), yellow stars (Jewish people), angry dogs and a world of hate from an omnipotent source.

Miller and Rubin spent many months researching the Frank family and the events that led to their arrest. They visited Amsterdam and included details about other families that helped Jews escape. They utilized pages from Anne’s diary that incorporated Mouschi’s life and even discovered a rule where Jews couldn’t own pets, which made Mouschi’s presence more important. They also studied Miller’s cats for inspiration. 

Rubin added that there were many drafts of the story, and various “trial and errors” before they came to the conclusion that they didn’t have to include every detail about Anne’s life, since the story was about what Mouschi knew. 

“The last thing we wanted was the Nazis breaking into the attic at the end, capturing the family and sending them to a concentration camp,” Rubin said. 

Instead, they created a story around Anne’s dreams developing on paper and Mouschi being there through all of it, and that Anne is writing to the cat. The cat wonders if anyone will “hear my girl’s words.” 

Through Anne’s diary entries, we discover that Mouschi’s mouse-chasing noises risk their safety, his fleas affect the humans’ hygiene and his ability to come and go from the annex allows the reader to see what is happening in the outside world.

On his outdoor adventures, Mouschi witnesses Dutch resistance fighter Jannetje Johanna Schaft help rescue Jews from the Jewish Theater, and the Amsterdam zookeepers who were keeping Jews safe. 

Mouschi’s adventures; Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. Courtesy of David Lee Miller and Steven Jay Rubin

“In Mouschi’s travels, he could have easily found himself wandering by the Jewish Theater or he could have wandered by the zoo and seen the Jews hiding above the tiger cages,” Rubin said. 

Miller added, “We were always amazed by the powerful stories.” 

The book, filled with poetry, beautiful illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley and dark themes with a hopeful twist, is already gaining traction, just two months after its release. Miller said it has reached the hands of elementary, middle and even high school students who have been moved by the story.

“It’s kind of for all ages, in a way,” Miller said. “When a book has huge amounts of imagination or is very poetic, it becomes a book for everyone.” 

In addition to the book, Miller and Ruben have adapted it into a screenplay and hope to create an animated feature titled “Mouschi.” 

Rubin said he was around 8 or 9 when he first learned about the Holocaust and remembers being taught if it were to happen again, it would happen in the United States. 

“Our book tells the story as a counterpoint to people who don’t know what the Holocaust is or people who are denying that it occurred,” he said. “It couldn’t be more relevant than ever with everything going on in the world right now.”