Allison's Book Bag

Throughout the ages, countless diaries have been written and some have even been published. Why is The Diary of Anne Frank so special? An obvious reason is the historical events it recounts. Biographers also tend to refer to Anne’s extraordinary writing ability and to her indefatigable spirit through even the most horrific of circumstances.  On a more personal level, I appreciate how candid Anne is about her adolescent experiences. I have also used her diary as a learning tool with my students.

Most everyone is aware that Anne Frank kept her diary in the 1940’s, when the Germans took over Amsterdam and imposed anti-Jewish measures. The day after Anne’s older sister received an official summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany, the family went into hiding, never once stepping outside until their eventual arrest. Throughout the family’s stay in the Secret Annex, Anne wrote extensive daily entries in her diary. Several of these early entries describe the anti-Jewish measures, while later ones refer to radio reports that caused great concern or celebration, depending on the status of the war. Later entries also referred to the atrocities being heaped upon their fellow citizens, the destruction being invoked by war raids, and of the numerous scares being faced by the family due to burglaries, sickness, and other potentially life-threatening situations. If for no other reason, The Diary of Anne Frank will continue to endure because of the historical events it records.

Of course, in her diary being a historical record, it also helps that Anne knew how to write for an audience. She selected only the highlights of a day to record in her diary such as a birthday celebration or a bout with sickness. Only on rare occasion did she outline the events of a day from start to finish. And then she had reason: Anne wanted to share what a typical day in the Secret Annex felt like. From her, we learn about when the family had to be quiet for fear of discovery and when they could relax because there was no one around to hear them. For each event that Anne elected to write about, she provided ample background and details, thereby pulling readers into her world. She even contemplated the reasons behind actions. With every page of her published diary, I feel as if I’m right there with her feeling anxious, frightened, confused, or excited.

With all the emphasis on its historical and literary merits, you might more easily forget how deeply personal The Diary of Anne Frank is. Several of the early entries detail at great length how isolated Anne felt from her family, especially from her mother and her sister. Only as she matures does Anne began to understand that perhaps some of her own actions have caused strife between mother and daughter. In addition, she and her older sister start to forge the beginnings of a friendship that is formed out of mutual respect, rather than simply forced upon them due to being sisters. Yet along with Anne’s growth also develops the awareness that her family’s views of their boarders might have prejudiced her against them. For that reason, Anne tries to impartially observe their boarders and note their strengths. Along with Anne’s questions about relationships are also her reactions to her changing body, her erratic periods, and her growing infatuation with the adolescent boy (Peter) who also resides in the Secret Annex. Whenever I reread The Diary of Anne Frank, I never cease to marvel at how vocal Anne is about her fears, hopes, hates, and loves.

All of the above provides me personally with an engaging reading experience, but it also serves me as a teacher too. When older students of mine display racist attitudes, or worse try to act tough by embellishing their arms with swastika, I read to them from Anne’s diary. We talk about how Anne was a real teenager. Just like them. We talk about how on a daily basis Anne never knew when an air raid from outside countries might destroy their building or when the military who were occupying their country might capture them and put them in concentration camps. All because she was a Jew. Anne wanted to feel fresh air, eat junk food, spend time with friends, laugh at jokes, and experience the pains of growing up. Just like the average teenager. Tragically, after turning thirteen, Anne never had the opportunity to have any of these experiences. Because she was a Jew. This message has been enlightening to my students.

Why is The Diary of Anne Frank so special? Anne’s father, the sole survivor of those who hid in the Secret Annex, apparently ends each of his letters with the words: “I hope Anne’s book will have an effect on the rest of your life so that insofar as it is possible in your own circumstances, you will work for unity and peace.” If you have yet to read it, you owe it to yourself to borrow it now and find out for yourself why this particular diary has endured. If you have already experienced its depth, I’d be interested in hearing how it has personally impacted you.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Born on June 12, 1929, Anne Frank was a German-Jewish teenager who was forced to go into hiding during World War II. She and her family, along with four others, spent over two years hiding from the Nazis in an annex of rooms above her father’s office in Amsterdam. During this time, Anne wrote about her experiences and wishes. She was 15 when the family was found and sent to a concentration camp. She was one of over one million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust. The Diary of Anne Frank has since been read by millions.


AnneFrankAnnelies Marie Frank was born June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany, to Otto and Edith Frank. Her father was a lieutenant in the German army during World War I, who later became a businessman. Anne also had a sister named Margot who was three years older than her.

For the first five years of her life, the Frank family lived in an apartment on the outskirts of Frankfurt. After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Otto Frank fled to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where he had business connections. The rest of the Frank family followed, with Anne being the last of the family to arrive in February 1934 after staying with her grandparents in Aachen.

According to Biography, the Franks were a typical upper middle-class German-Jewish family living in a quiet, religiously diverse neighborhood near the outskirts of Frankfurt. However, Anne was born on the eve of dramatic changes in German society that would soon disrupt her family’s tranquil life as well as the lives of all other German Jews. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the National German Socialist Workers Party (Nazi Party) led by Adolph Hitler became Germany’s leading political force, winning control of the government in 1933.

I can remember that as early as 1932, groups of Storm Troopers came marching by, singing, ‘When Jewish blood splatters from the knife.’

–Otto Frank, Biography: Anne Frank

When Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 20, 1933, the Frank family realized that it was time to flee. They moved to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Anne described the circumstances of her family’s emigration years later in her diary: “Because we’re Jewish, my father immigrated to Holland in 1933, where he became the managing director of the Dutch Opekta Company, which manufactures products used in making jam.”

Anne began attending Amsterdam’s Sixth Montessori School. Biography states that throughout the rest of the 1930s, Anne lived a relatively happy and normal childhood. She had many friends, along with being a bright and inquisitive student.

In 1940, the Germans took over Amsterdam too and imposed anti-Jewish measures. Jews were required to wear a yellow Star of David at all times and observe a strict curfew. Anne and her sister were forced to transfer to a segregated Jewish school. Otto Frank managed to keep control of his company by officially signing ownership over to two of his Christian associates, while continuing to run the company from behind the scenes.

Within two years, German authorities and their Dutch collaborators had begun to concentrate Jews from throughout the Netherlands at Westerbork, a transit camp near the Dutch town of Assen, not far from the German border. From Westerbork, German officials deported the Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobiborkilling centers in German-occupied Poland. As Anne later wrote in her diary, “After May 1940, the good times were few and far between; first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews.”

I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.

–Anne Frank, Biography: Anne Frank


AnneFrankDisary_InsideOn June 12, 1942, Anne’s parents gave her a red checkered diary for her 13th birthday. She wrote her first entry, addressed to an imaginary friend named Kitty, that same day.

Only a few short weeks later, Margot received an official summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany. The very next day, the family went into hiding in makeshift quarters in an empty space at the back of Otto Frank’s company building, which they referred to as the Secret Annex. They were accompanied in hiding by Otto’s business partner Hermann van Pels as well as his wife, Auguste, and son, Peter. Otto’s employees Kleiman and Kugler, as well as Jan and Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, provided food and information about the outside world.

For the next two years, the families remained in hiding, never once stepping outside the dark, damp, sequestered portion of the building. To pass the time, Anne wrote extensive daily entries in her diary. In addition to her diary, Anne filled a notebook with quotes from her favorite authors, original stories and the beginnings of a novel about her time in the Secret Annex.

On August 4, 1944, the Gestapo (German Secret State Police) discovered the hiding place after being tipped off by an anonymous Dutch caller, and the Frank family and the four others hiding with them were arrested. One month later, the Gestapo sent them to Auschwitz, a concentration camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Upon arriving at Auschwitz, the men and women were separated. This was the last time that Otto Frank ever saw his wife or daughters.

Selected for labor due to their youth, Anne and her sister were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Celle, in northern Germany in late October 1944. Their mother was not allowed to go with them. She fell ill and died at Auschwitz shortly thereafter, on January 6, 1945. Biography states that at Bergen-Belsen, food was scarce, sanitation was awful, and disease ran rampant. Anne and her sister both came down with typhus in the early spring and died within a day of each other in March 1945, only a few weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp. Anne Frank was just 15 years old at the time of her death.

“There was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings.”

–Otto Frank, Biography: Anne Frank

At the end of the war, Otto Frank returned home to Amsterdam, searching for news of his family. On July 18, 1945, he met two sisters who had been with Anne and Margot at Bergen-Belsen and delivered the tragic news of their deaths. He also found Anne’s diary, which had been saved by Miep Gies, and Biography notes that he was awestruck by what he discovered.

The Secret Annex: Diary Letters was published on June 25, 1947. Since that time, Anne’s diary has been published in 67 languages. Countless editions, as well as screen and stage adaptations, of the work have been created around the world. It is also used in thousands of middle school and high school curricula in Europe and the Americas. Her diary has become a symbol for the lost promise of the children who died in the Holocaust.

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.

–Anne Frank, Biography: Anne Frank


As part of celebrating classics this month, I wanted to highlight some beloved book collections that are on my shelves. I’ve broken them down in two different ways. One are those titles which comprise a set by being about the same character. Two are those which make up a collection, even if only in my mind, by virtue of their being a group of books by the same author. Another rule I adhered to is that there must be at least ten titles for me to include the collection in my round-up. Also, the books can’t be simply on my wish list, but rather must be ones I have myself repeatedly read. Here goes!


OZ: Fantasy has always been on my reading list, although nowadays it seems as if I mostly enjoy the classic kind. The first title in the OZ series chronicles the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy Gale in the Land of Oz, after being swept away from her Kansas farm home in a cyclone. Thirteen additional titles follow, all featuring Dorothy and/or other notable characters from OZ. For as long as I can remember, this series has been part of my life. I’ve seen the movie spin-offs including one about the author Frank Baum and an exhibit on OZ that featured the red shoes, as well as bought a book entitled The Hundred Years of Oz. My favorite, which I discovered in my dad’s fifth-grade classroom decades ago, remains Ozma of Oz.

Paddington Bear: Animal books have also always been on my list, whether realistic or fantastical. The friendly bear from deepest, darkest Peru—with his old hat, battered suitcase, duffle coat and love of marmalade—has become a classic character who recently starred in his own movie. He was discovered in Paddington Station, London, by the Brown family who adopted him, and possesses an endless capacity for innocently getting into trouble. Decades ago, my dad bought me my very own Paddington Bear plush doll. On my wish list is the autobiography of the author, Michael Bond.

Black Stallion: The first book in the series, published in 1941, chronicles the story of an Arab sheikh’s prized stallion after it comes into Alec Ramsey’s possession. The subsequent novels are about the stallion’s three main offspring, as well as about the Black himself. The series introduces a second stallion that is considered the Black’s only equal – The Island Stallion, Flame. As with other beloved series, I have seen the movie spin-offs. Moreover, the series certainly helped to spawn by childhood love of horses. As an adult, however, I found that riding on them takes getting used to, and so now I prefer to simply enjoy reading about these magnificent beasts. Other than the original title, during my earliest encounter with the series, my favorite title was Black Stallion and the Girl. Is that because I prefer to read books with a female character? Or is it when I reached this title, I had begun to develop an interest in romance novels? One day I’ll have to reread the series and see my favorite title changes.

Doctor Doolittle: This famous doctor shuns human patients in favor of animals, with whom he can speak in their own languages. He later becomes a naturalist, using his abilities to speak with animals to better understand nature and the history of the world. Along with Chronicles of Narnia, this series encouraged a childhood fantasy that animals could talk to humans. Apparently, Doctor Dolittle first appeared in the author’s illustrated letters to children, written from the trenches during World War I when actual news was either too horrible or too dull. Sounds like an author whom I would like to know more about!

Little House: Growing up, I wasn’t a huge fan of historical fiction. One exception, perhaps partly due to the television series, were the Little House books. With the assistance of her daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote eight books about her childhood in the northern Midwest during the 1870s and 1880s. The first draft of a ninth novel, The First Four Years, was published posthumously in 1971 and is commonly included in the series. As an adult, I have better come to appreciate historical fiction. In addition, my own move to the Midwest renewed my interest in Wilder’s books. Not only have I visited tourist sites relevant to the author, but I have purchased several books written about Wilder and her series. My favorite has long been Little Town on the Prairie, due to it being about the trials of the Ingalls girls at school.


Judy Blume: From the moment my dad gave me a copy of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, I’ve been hooked on Judy Blume. Thanks to Blume, I understand what it meant to have periods and to experience doubts in my faith. Blume’s novels have also tackled bullying, divorce, friendship, masturbation, and teen sex. Growing up, I wanted to become a Christian Judy Blume. As an adult, when I sold books to afford to move out on my own for the first time, I couldn’t bear to part with any titles by Blume. When I teach writing to my school students, I often use examples from her books to illustrate how to tell a story and develop character. Recently, my husband graced me with a signed-copy of her current adult book, In the Unlikely Event. Judy Blume will always remain one of my favorite authors.

Beverly Cleary: Perhaps because she wrote about everyday events, I didn’t appreciate Clearly until much later in life. When I sold books to move out on my own, I did sadly part with many titles by her. To my credit, I only made the mistake because I believed that I could easily replace those titles when I had my own place. The reality is that hardcover copies do not always stay readily available. I have spent the past few years, tracking down Henry Huggins and Ramona titles at used-book venues. A side benefit I suppose is that this search spurred my interest in collecting titles by Clearly that I hadn’t encountered during my childhood. I also now own her two autobiographical titles. No collection of children’s literature should be without all of Cleary’s books.

Eleanor Estes: Another writer whom I came to appreciate later in life, Estes is noted for having a rare gift for depicting everyday experiences from the fresh perspective of childhood. She’s also recognized as a writer of family stories, and as one who shaped and broadened that subgenre’s tradition. The Moffats is the first in a series of four books that tells about four young children and their mother who live in a small town in Connecticut. Their adventures are based on Estes’ memories of her childhood and focus on a working-class, single-parent American family during World War I. Each chapter in the book tells of one simple adventure the children had. The author’s influence on me can be seen on the names I bestowed on my plush toys, Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye, which are also the titles of two of her animal books.

Jean and John Craighead George: Common themes in George’s works are the environment and the natural world. Although she wrote over 100 books, I own only her earliest works. Due to my attraction to wolves, my favorite of her titles is the Julie and the Wolves trilogy. Inspiration for Julie of the Wolves apparently evolved from two specific events during a summer she spent studying wolves and tundra at the Arctic Research Laboratory of Barrow, Alaska. Wikipedia provides this quote: “One was a small girl walking the vast and lonesome tundra outside of Barrow; the other was a magnificent alpha male wolf, leader of a pack in Denali National Park. They haunted me for a year or more as did the words of one of the scientists at the lab: ‘If there ever was any doubt in my mind that a man could live with the wolves, it is gone now. The wolves are truly gentlemen, highly social and affectionate.’ “ Apparently, she wrote an autobiography, and so I must add that title to my wish list. :-)

Marguerite Henry: Stricken with rheumatic fever at the age of six, which kept her bedridden until the age of twelve, Marguerite Henry discovered the joy of reading while she was confined indoors,. Soon afterwards, Henry also discovered a love for writing when her parents presented her with a writing desk for Christmas. All of her fans I’m sure are eternally grateful that her sickness led to a fruitful writing career. Her fifty-nine books based on true stories of horses and other animals captivated entire generations. She won the annual Newbery Medal for one of her books about horses and she was a runner-up for two others. One of the latter, Misty of Chincoteague, was the basis for several sequels and for the 1961 movie Misty. My personal favorite, perhaps just because it stood out among her multiple of titles about horses, is Cinnabar the One O’Clock Fox. When my husband and I took a trip to Arizona, Brighty of Grand Canyon also took on special significance. On my wish list is a trip to Chincoteague itself!

Apparently, an unintentional rule of mine was also to feature only those authors whose books are on my regular shelves. As such, I neglected to mention authors whose books I have separately displayed in our family library: Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis. Of course, as a reader, one never stops discovering authors. Not mentioned in this round-up are authors whose books I began collecting seriously only as an adult: Lloyd Alexander, Bill and Vera Cleaver, Gary Paulsen, E.L. Konisburg, and Katherine Paterson. I sense a part-two in the works! In the meantime, what are your favorite book collections?

Allison’s Book Bag reached 5000 hits for the first time at the end of last month! What a wonderful way to celebrate five years.

Foremost, my thanks goes to my husband for encouraging me to start a book review blog. Also, he created both logos for my blog, as well as my Gravatar. He also faithfully edited my reviews, until I started feeling comfortable enough independently posting them. Oh, and he has even served as guest reviewer for me.

Also, I appreciate the constant support of my dad and my mother-in-law. Inspired by my blog, my dad started his own, which you can check out here: Open Theism. Also, he frequently comments on my posts, even when it means taking time to read the book I have just reviewed. My mother-in-law has also been a faithful follower from the start.

Finally, of course, thanks to all of my readers and followers. You’re hugely instrumental in my blog reaching 5000 hits. I can’t wait to see what the next five years and next 5000 hits brings!


Saturday Snapshot invites bloggers to share photos. This past spring, around the same time we lost our adopted silky terrier to pancreatisis, my husband and I started to foster a cat.

Isn’t Bootsie adorable? This is the photo of her that changed everything for her and for my family. Bootsie grew up outdoors. I met her when I started to volunteer for a local group that does Trap-Neuter-Release. She stole the heart of everyone who brought her food. During our recent cold winter, I wanted to bring her inside to foster. After my husband saw this photo, he agreed.

In the beginning, Bootsie stayed in a dog crate in our library. We weren’t too sure how Bootsie would adapt to indoor life. On her part, I’m sure she wasn’t too sure what to make of us and our home. This photo was taken shortly before we decided to let her roam our library.

Of course, roaming our library was one thing; allowing her access to our whole house was another thing. Yet if we were to successfully prepare Bootsie for adoption, Bootsie needed to experience what living in a regular household meant. Foremost, for my husband and I, there were the other pets to consider. At that point, foremost, that meant our tortoiseshell cat. We followed all the guidelines in pet books about initially keeping cats separated and then slowly introducing them. (In a separate post in August, I wrote about how Bootsie Learns to be a Pet.) For better or worse, when Bootsie started knocking down partitions, we decided she was ready for more freedom.

Of course, there were other acclimations to make too. Although the major hurdle of learning how to get along with Cinder had been conquered, Bootsie still needed to accept our dog. In addition, because her initial relationship had been with me, Bootsie had yet to adjust to my husband.

Once she began to explore our house, many more adventures awaited! Such as learning how to use a scratching post. Starting to regularly playing with toys. Feeling safe enough to sleep through noise and commotion.

The journey hasn’t been without some adjustments. My husband and I had to learn to respect Bootsie’s fears and to allow her time to realize that our home truly is a safe haven for her. Our pets had to adjust to sharing their space with an initially nervous cat. I also had to figure out that even the first sound of rain will send Bootsie running for cover under our bed. Oh, and apparently, Miss Bootsie doesn’t care for covered cages, bathrobes, or hanging shirt tails. Then again, every new pet will have its own personality and quirks. I’m so delighted that Bootsie has allowed our family the opportunity to know hers!

Even now as I scroll through the hundreds of photos I have taken of Bootsie, I feel amazed that only a year ago I didn’t even know she existed. When I finally did meet Bootsie, I simply thought of her as a cat who would safely live her live outdoors thanks to a local Trap-Neuter-Release group. Now she’s not only been living inside with our family for almost six months, but she’s moving towards being a lap cat. Amazing!

Whether you support a local shelter, foster, or adopt, do something today to help an animal in need. Both your life and theirs will be forever changed.

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October: Plum Creek Literacy Festival

For the past seven years, I have attended Plum Creek Literacy Festival to hear authors speak and get books signed by them. This month, I'll share the highlights of the festival, as well as reviews of books by the following authors.

  • Richard Peck
  • Jerry Pallotta
  • Peter Lourie
  • Andrew Clements



Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row and my novel in its second version.

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