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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.

PERSONAL LIFE

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

WRITING LIFE

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

ADDITIONAL SOURCES

After reading Ozma of Oz by Frank Baum years ago in fifth grade, I knew that I wanted all of the Oz books. What appealed to me about that particular title? To be honest, I don’t know if I have an answer. Sometimes a novel simply captures one’s imagination in such a way that a story becomes memorable and unforgettable. For me, Ozma of Oz happens to be one of those books.

In rereading Ozma of Oz again this week, the plot could be one reason. Our beloved Dorothy is traveling on a ship with her uncle, a storm erupts, and she’s blown out to sea in a chicken coop. Never mind that Baum has already relied on bad weather in Wizard of Oz to disrupt Dorothy’s day. The moment the wind blows hard and the billows roll high, I know danger and excitement are afoot, and Baum has me hooked. Nor of course is Dorothy safe when she reaches the shore. In the sand is written a message: “Beware the Wheelers”. These creatures who roll on all fours soon have Dorothy fleeing to a nearby hill and me clutching my throat. Barely does Baum let me breathe a sigh of relief over Dorothy’s escape, when he introduces Princess Langwidere. She doesn’t seem to understand that others don’t have interchangeable heads and innocently demands that Dorothy hand over hers. Her apathetic innocence made my skin tingle. On and on Baum heaps the dangers, with the most nail-biting scenes in my mind coming from the Nome King. Yet it’s not so much the ability of the Nome King to turn Dorothy and her friends into ornaments that put me on edge as how the Nome King tricked everyone into playing a deadly game where their lives were on the line.

The characters could also be a reason for why Ozma of Oz mesmerizes me. The first is of course Dorothy, the ideal character for fantastic adventures such as Baum writes. Dorothy’s practical approach to disaster, of choosing to rest and see what happens next, helps her not despair and thus to survive. That doesn’t however mean Dorothy always feels cheer or is role model of perfection. Just as much as anyone, she wants to have dry clothes and food to eat. Her strong sense of right and wrong also serves her well, causing her to stand up against villains such as Princess Langwidere and the Nome King. The next character whom Dorothy meets is a hen named Billina. The two bond together when sharing the same coop during the storm. They also quibble over who is more shameful, Billina who eats living insects or Dorothy who eats cooked creatures. Thus, begins a relationship, where both are highly opinionated but still manage to stay friends. Most of the other good characters are old favorites from previous Oz book such as the scarecrow, tin woodman, and cowardly lion. For those familiar with only Wizard of Oz, there will however be new personalities to enjoy such as the hungry tiger who craves babies but morally knows it’s wrong and so disallows himself such delicacies.

I have now reached the part of my review where I encourage or discourage you from purchasing a book. If you like fantasy, Baum is still among the most creative authors of the literary world. Plot and characters aside, I also enjoy his humor and whimsy. If you like Oz books, Ozma is one of the most entertaining of them. The villains almost steal the show. Beyond that, all I can tell you is that personally Ozma of Oz will always be near the top of my favorite books to read and reread.

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

How would you rate this book?

I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp … but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward.

–Frank Baum, Biography

Author of Wizard of Oz, one of the most famous works of children’s literature, Lyman Frank Baum was born in 1856 in New York. He was also an entrepreneur, playwright, and journalist. Thirteen more Oz books followed before his death in 1919. Tomorrow I’ll review one of those subsequent Oz books, a personal favorite which I discovered in fifth grade, Ozma of Oz. Save the date: December 22!

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

You see, in this country there are a number of youths who do not like to work, and the college is an excellent place for them.

–Frank Baum, Smithsonian

Frank Baum Wiki Oz

Frank Baum
Wiki Oz

Baum’s father was Benjamin Ward Baum and his mother Cynthia Stanton. Named “Lyman” after an uncle, Baum hated his first name and chose to be called by his middle name “Frank” instead. Homeschooled, Baum enjoyed a comfortable upbringing as the son of a barrel factory owner who experienced success in the oil business. Biographers suggest Baum’s home life with nine siblings was happy.

Hours were spent reading in the father’s library where, according to Online Literature, Baum developed an aversion to the scary creatures and violence of popular children’s fairytales of the time. He ended up creating his own adaptations to give to other children, later including his own, and delighted in telling stories rather than grim and frightful moral lessons.

At the age of 12, Baum went to the Peekskill Military Academy. Smithsonian notes that having been born with a weak heart, Baum wasn’t a boisterous child but rather timid and shy. The academy’s atmosphere of harsh discipline and strenuous activity proved arduous to him. In the middle of a caning two years later, Baum clutched his chest and collapsed, seemingly suffering a heart attack. Although Baum attended a high school in Syracuse, he never graduated.

Instead, Baum spent his early adulthood exploring his creative interests. After his father bought him a printing press, with his younger brother Harry, Baum started his own newspaper. He started to write the editorials, articles, fiction and poetry that would fill the pages of the Rose Lawn Home.

Despite his distaste for academics, Baum did not mind work. He stumbled through a number of failed enterprises before finding a career that suited him. In his 20s, he raised chickens, started a business that produced oil-based lubricants, wrote plays, and even ran a theater company. Smithsonian says that Baum’s stint as a playwright and actor brought him the greatest satisfaction out of these early employments, although the work was not stable.

In 1882, Baum married Maud Gage, college roommate of his cousin and the daughter of famous women’s rights campaigner Matilda Josyln Gage. Smithsonian shares that when Baum’s aunt introduced Maud to Frank, she told him that he would love her. Upon first sight, Baum declared, “Consider yourself loved, Miss Gage.” He proposed a few months later, and despite objections from her mother, Maud accepted. The couple had four children.

Around this time, Baum also left the theatre life to go into private business. As part of that decision, deciding that the real opportunities lay in the Midwest, he moved his family in 1888 to South Dakota. Over the next ten years, Frank would run a bazaar, start a baseball club, report for a frontier newspaper and buy dishware for a department store. Next, in 1891, Baum moved his family to Chicago, where he experienced several more failed attempts to financially establish himself.

Upon encouragement from his mother-in-law, notes Online Literature Baum started in his forties to write down the nursery rhymes he had improvised and told to his sons over the years. Mother Goose was published in 1897, met with rave reviews, and led to his collaborative work on another success. Father Goose: His Book was a best-selling book in its time with an estimated 175,000 copies sold. On its heels, in 1900, was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

WRITING BACKGROUND

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure children today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.

–Frank Baum, Biography

Baum_OzIn the spring of 1898, on scraps of ragged paper, the story of The Wizard of Oz took shape. According to Smithsonian, when Baum was done with the manuscript, he framed the well-worn pencil stub he had used to write the story, anticipating that it had produced something great.

Indeed, Baum had. The story of Dorothy’s quest to find her way home, accompanied by a tin woodsman, a scarecrow and cowardly lion, proved to be widely popular. Baum became not only the best-selling children’s book author in the country, but also the founder of a genre. Until this point, Smithsonian explains, American children read European literature; there had never been a successful American children’s book author. The New York Times declared that children would be “pleased with dashes of color and something new in the place of the old, familiar, and winged fairies of Grimm and Anderson.”

Yet the success of The Wizard of Oz didn’t necessarily secure Baum’s future. Two years later, Baum transformed his fairy tale into a successful Broadway musical. He re-imagined a popular culture figure around this time with The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. However, the next book in the Oz series, The Land of Oz, was Baum’s response to the demand for more stories about Oz and also to supplement his dwindling finances. In 1910, Baum moved his family to California, where he worked to bring his various stories to the big screen. The first movie versions of his Oz tales were made as short films. Only one year later, sadly, Baum had to declare bankruptcy. Thereafter, he referred to himself as “Royal Historian of Oz” and commenced writing one Oz book per year. Never undaunted, Baum started the Oz Film Manufacturing Company which experimented with film effects. He wrote many screenplays and directed two, but the company folded a year later. He also started acting again with an amateur group.

In the more than 100 years after the publication of The Wizard of Oz, Baum’s stories have continued to enchant. Several other authors, including Ruth Plumly Thompson, were hired to continue to create new Oz adventures. In 1939, twenty years after Baum’s death, the now-famous film version of his classic tale appeared on the big screen starring Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger and Frank Morgan. It went on to become one of the most watched movies in cinematic history. Writer Gregory Maguire has written several books exploring the lives of some of Baum’s most famous characters. His 1995 book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, was used as the basis for the popular Broadway musical Wicked. And the list goes on….

It’s interesting to note that the first word ever written in the very first Oz book was ‘Dorothy.’ The last word of the book is ‘again.’ And that is what young readers have said ever since those two words were written: ‘We want to read about Dorothy again.

–Jack Snow, Smithsonian

This past week I rediscovered Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. In doing so, I realized it held even more depth to it than my childhood reading of it had revealed. For example, this beloved classic dog story is set in a different time and place than those with whom I am familiar. Even the main character of Lassie is a more complex dog than I remembered, in that she at times like humans wavers between fear and love.

Lassie Come-Home was first published in 1938. At that time, just like today, there was a disparity between the poor and the wealthy. Back then, however, those struck by poverty might consider selling their canine companions to dealers, kennel owners, or rich men. And so Knight writes in his fictional story, “That way many fine dogs had gone from homes in Greenall Bridge. But not Lassie!” The day came however that even the Carraclough family had been beaten so low that the parents felt there was no other choice. Imagine growing up, every day being met faithfully after school or work by your dog, and then one day she is not there. Such is what happened to Joe. When he inquired of his parents, they told that Lassie had been sold and would not ever be theirs again. Needless to say, Joe was devastated and Lassie was confused.

Eric Knight was born in England. Although he later moved to the United States, his homeland is believed to have served as the setting for Lassie Come-Home. In the early chapters of Lassie Come-Home, Lassie escapes the kennels to which she has been sold and devotedly returns to Joe. She doesn’t understand that because the family has sold her, they will be obligated to return her. The third time this happens, Joe doesn’t take her home but instead hides out with her on the moors, which Knight describes as: “as island of outcropping rocks, great sharp-edged blocks that looked much as in some strange long ago a giant child had begun to pile up building block towers”. Eventually, the new owner relocates Lassie to Scotland, where he hopes to put an end to her escapes. For a time it does, but one day on a walk Lassie breaks from her collar and begins the long journey across Scotland to England and back home again to Joe. She encounters many adventures and Knight treats readers to descriptive passages of the landscape.

Of course, at the heart of Lassie Come-Home is the bond which exists between boy and dog. Although Lassie had to traverse mountains, swim rivers, and resist attacks, she persevered. One instinct kept her going, despite injuries and fevers, and that was the one to meet Joe at school at 4:00. Along the way, Lassie sadly discovered that not all men are equal in their treatment of animals. Boys threw rocks at her. Men shot their guns at her. Others hurled sticks or came with nets to imprison her. Given how daring Lassie acts in the television series, you might not recall this detail but in time, Lassie came to fear those men whom she didn’t know. At a pivotal time, when a peddler who had befriended her came under assault, Lassie at first runs away. As she heads homeward, Lassie feels conflicted. Fear would tell her to just keep going, going, going…. Love would require her to return and defend the peddler, even if meant even more harm to herself.

If it’s been awhile since you last read Lassie Come-Home, this holiday season would make an excellent time to pick up a copy again. And if you have yet to read the tale which inspired such adoration for the breed of collies, what are you waiting for?

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

How would you rate this book?


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2018

This month I’m reviewing Advanced Reader Copies! I’ll also have some major news to share. Keep watch.

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