September 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

There are so many perfect times to read a book and so many new books to fill those hours. Kids love reading or being read to in school or before going to sleep. And adults they try to snatch a few minutes here and there during lunch or a break or before turning out the light. Whether you read a newly published book, a book that’s new at your local library or bookstore, or a book that’s just new to you, grab your favorite kind of book and start reading!  

Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary

Written by Meeg Pincus | Illustrated by Jordi Solano

 

On August 4, 1944, Miep Gies hears the worst sound she’s ever heard: “footsteps on the secret back stairs.” The sound is “worse than the World War II bomber planes…. Worse than the queen’s quivering voice on the radio announcing the invading Nazi army.” The sound means that Nazi officers have come to arrest the Frank family who Miep has been hiding for two years. Miep hears the van carrying her friends roar away. She knows that soon Nazi movers will return to take away all of the Frank’s possessions. She knows too that she could be arrested for keeping anything belonging to her friends, but there is one item she must rescue. “It calls silently from the musty rooms above.”

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2019, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

It takes many hours before Miep can bring herself to enter the secret annex. With her husband, Henk, and a coworker, Elli, they enter the rooms. In the bedroom, Miep finds what she is looking for: a red checkered diary that holds the thoughts and hopes of the Franks’ young daughter Anne. Miep “knows Anne dreams of publishing it as a book after the war.” Elli gathers up more of Anne’s writing that lies strewn across the floor, and Miep “grabs…Anne’s delicate combing shawl, strands of her dark hair clinging to its fabric like silky noodles.”

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2019, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Miep hides Anne’s diary and combing shawl in the drawer of her desk, never reading it. Nine months go by then one day Henk rushes into their apartment with news that the war is over and that the Nazis have surrendered. Miep and Hank wait for their “friends and neighbors to return from the camps,” wondering if the Franks will be among them. One day, Miep sees a familiar figure approaching her door. It’s Mr. Frank. He is alone, his wife having died in the camp. He has no knowledge about Anne and her sister as they were sent to another camp. While Mr. Frank regains his strength with the help of Miep, he sends letter after letter trying to locate his daughters.

At last a letter arrives, but it “contains the worst possible news: Anne and her sister did not survive the war. The air in the office hangs as still and shattered as the day of the capture.” With a broken heart, Miep opens her desk drawer and retrieves “Anne’s diary, papers, and shawl.” As she hands them to Mr. Frank, he gasps. He takes them to his office and reads Anne’s diary. “He savors her tales of growing up in hiding, her bright calls for hope when all seems lost.” He urges Miep to read it too, but she feels that she “will drown in sorrow” if she does.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2019, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

With the help of a war historian, Mr. Frank has Anne’s diary published. But, still, Miep cannot read it. Years go by before Miep opens the cover of Anne’s book. As she reads Anne’s words, she feels “as if Anne is standing right beside her, chattering away. Within the pages of her diary, Anne expressed her gratitude for the “gift…of writing, of expressing all that is in me” and her desire to “go on living even after my death!” After reading Anne’s words, Miep’s sadness lessens and she realizes that by saving her diary, “her beloved Anne will live on and on.”

An Author’s Note about how this book came to be written as well as more about the life of Miep Gies follows the text.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2019, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Reading Meeg Pincus’s compelling first page, readers can almost hear the stomp of Nazi footsteps on the stairs leading to the secret annex and feel the constriction of Miep Gies’s heart as the Franks are arrested and taken away. Miep’s courage amid her sadness reverberates throughout this true story, tinted with the secrecy of grocery runs, the hurried collection of Anne’s most precious possession, and her ongoing mission to protect her friends. Pincus’s excellent pacing and evocative storytelling, which includes actual quotes from Miep’s writings and is punctuated with emotion will have children holding their breath as they listen or read on their own. Heartbreaking facts are portrayed candidly and with respect for the target age, allowing Anne’s boundless hope to shine through.

Seeming to take inspiration in color and tone from photographs on the front endpaper of Anne and her father flanked by Miep Gies and other helpers, Jordi Solano washes his illustrations in somber grays and greens, preserving bright spots for Anne’s red diary and her grass-green skirt that connects her to the colorfully clothed children who, on the final page, have come to visit the Anne Frank Museum. Miep’s grief at the arrest of her friends is palpable, and the Nazi officer who threatens her with arrest is depicted with sharp angles and an unrelenting stare. Children see Miep hide Anne’s diary in the back of a drawer and the approaching figure of Mr. Frank coming home from the detention camp. Solano portrays the moment when Mr. Frank, reunited with Anne’s diary and papers, clasps his daughter’s things to his heart. It is a poignant glimpse into this most private experience. As Miep finally reads Anne’s diary, Anne, herself, appears as she was, full of curiosity, joy, and love.

A must to be included in lessons about World War II, the Holocaust, and Anne Frank, Miep and the Most Famous Diary is also a poignant reminder of the crucial role of personal courage as well as the everlasting endurance of hope. The book should be included in all school and public libraries and would make a powerful addition to home libraries as well.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110250

Discover more about Meeg Pincus and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jordi Solano, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Initials Bookends

 

You can display your personality along with your favorite books with this easy craft! This makes a great gift too!

Supplies

  • Sturdy wooden letter blocks in the child’s first and last initials. Or, if the child would like to try on a new name or nickname, the first letter of their new name.
  • Chalkboard or acrylic paint
  • Colored chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the letters, let dry
  2. With the chalk write words that describe you or names of your heroines and/or heroes
  3. Display your bookends

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You can find Miep and the Most Famous Diary at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrating art is always a great thing! Today we champion that feeling you get inside when you create or experience art—no matter what kind is your favorite. Paintings, books, music, sculpture, quilts, photography, and other arts show you a bit of the world in a new way—a way, perhaps, you’ve never thought of before. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most—as you’ll see in today’s book. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

The Hiding Game

Written by Gwen Strauss | Illustrated by Herb Leonhard

 

It was October of 1940, and after moving from place to place to stay “one step ahead of the German soldiers,” Aube and her family had found a home where they could “live together until it was their turn to flee to safety. The Villa Air-Bel was rented by Varian Fry—a magician—and his assistant Danny Bénédite and served as a place to hide those looking to escape the war-torn country. On Sundays, the house was full of “thinkers, artists and writers who had to hide from the German soldiers because of their ideas of freedom and liberty” like Aube’s parents.

On those days, everyone played games, danced and made collages. One of Aube’s favorite games was Cadavre Exquis, in which a piece of paper was folded and each participant drew a design on one fold. When the whole paper was unfolded, amazing, artistic pictures emerged. These games and entertainment, Aube’s father told her, were their ways of fighting against fear. Because of the danger, many things had to be hidden at the Villa, including the radio and the cow that provided milk. Many ingredients for cooking were scarce. But even then Aube’s father used art to lighten the mood, leaving a drawing of a roast beef in the pantry where a real roast should have been.

Because the authorities were reading Varian and Danny’s mail and were listening to their phone calls, they had devised a way of hiding messages in toothpaste tubes that escaped the guard’s searches. The messages went to other people helping along the escape route to tell them who to expect next. Everyone in the house also had to have a special hiding place in case the police came. Aube chose the an old cabinet in the kitchen.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, text copyright Gwen Strauss, 2017. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Whenever a new group of people were scheduled to “make the dangerous journey to a new country, they held a Sunday party and art sale to raise money.” Canvases painted by famous artists were hung among the branches of a large tree on the Villa grounds. When winter came, the Villa was so cold everyone had to wear all of their clothes to stay warm. They kept their spirits warm, too, by singing their favorite songs.

During the winter Danny visited camps where people were being held under terrible conditions. “Aube understood now that the danger was that they would be sent to the camps,” where people were dying of starvation and disease. They had little clothes and no blankets even though it was snowing. The people, Danny said, were going to freeze. Aube thought of the game freeze tag and worried about all of those “people freezing, waiting for someone to set them free.”

One day in December, the police raided the Villa. They took away all the men, including Danny, Varian, and Aube’s papa. Aube cowered in the kitchen cabinet with their dog in fear. The next week, the men were released, but they knew that the police would be back. Danny and Varian began to plan their escape. Before they all left, Aube’s father devised one more game. Each artist would paint their own version of a playing card to create a collective work of art. “The cards would remind them that they had laughed together and stayed free in their hearts even during the darkest times.”

Aube’s family were placed on a ship sailing to South America, and on February 18, 1941 they left the Villa and Danny and Varian behind and made the one-month-long journey to freedom. Several months later, Varian was “forced to leave France and return to America.” Danny went underground and “helped another 300 people escape France.” In 1943, however, Danny was “arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death.” Just as he was facing the firing squad, soldiers fighting the Nazis burst through the gates of the camp and freed him and the other inmates.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Gwen Strauss includes extensive backmatter on this true-life story about her great-uncle Danny Bénédite. A detailed account of the work by Varian Fry, Danny Bénédite, and the American Rescue Committee, complete with photographs, as well as short biographies of some of the artists who visited the Villa (and a compelling list of others) plus resources for further study round out this compelling book.

Clearly written and with details from a child’s point of view that will resonate with readers, The Hiding Game is an absorbing tribute not only to two men involved in the Nazi resistance movement but to the resilience that uplifts people during the darkest times. This fascinating true story also offers a glimpse into the important role that artists and writers play in shining a light on history, interpreting it, and fighting against forces that destroy. Rich with the atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and simple pleasures enjoyed, Strauss’s dynamic storytelling will thrill children. The Hiding Game will prompt them to learn more about this time period and will inspire in them their own acts of heroism.

Herb Leonhard’s realistic drawings of the Villa Air-Bel, the families who stopped there on their way to freedom, the moments of joy that sustained them, and the secret measures necessary for people’s safety take readers into the heart of the story and allow them to witness the danger and the creativity that swirled side-by-side within the Villa and the people living there. Largely depicted in somber tones of gray and green, the pages brighten with glowing yellows during times of laughter, games, and creativity. An illustration of the mammoth tree hung with canvases by famous artists will impress children, and the final image will leave an indelible and thought-provoking impression on young readers and adults.

An excellent book for facilitating discussions about World War II and the Holocaust with children at home and in the classroom as well as offering opportunities for cross-curricular learning in history, art, reading, and more, The Hiding Game is a superb choice to add to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 12

Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-1455622658

Discover more about Gwen Strauss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Herb Leonhard, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Inspire Your Heart with Art Day Activity

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle

 

Art has a language all its own! Have fun finding the twenty-five art-related words in this printable puzzle.

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle and I Love Art! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Hiding Game at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review