I am so, so excited to share Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary (Sleeping Bear Press), written by Meeg Pincus with illustrations by Jordi Solano. I had the privilege of reading this soon-to-be-released gem, and it’s fantastic! This true story is so compelling that I found myself on the edge of my seat until the very last page. The author, Meeg Pincus, met Miep many years ago, and included powerful quotes from Miep’s autobiography in the story. The warm illustrations provide the perfect “feel” for the setting of this inspiring story, and the book also includes a few wonderful photos.
Meeg has kindly agreed to join us at PBB and answer a few questions about her lovely book (which received a starred review from Kirkus!) and will release next month.
Meeg, what inspired you to write about Miep Gies?
Well, like many youth—especially girls of Jewish heritage like myself—I was a huge fan of The Diary of Anne Frank and felt very connected to Anne herself. Miep was a heroine to Anne—caring for her family and four other hiders in the Secret Annex for two years—so she was to me as well, though I didn’t know anything beyond what Anne wrote about her.
Then, when I was a newspaper reporter in my twenties (for a regional paper owned by The Washington Post), I got to cover Miep’s visit to the D.C. area. I watched with wonder as Miep talked with schoolchildren about Anne and courage. I learned more about her story, discovering she not only hid the eight people in the Secret Annex (and one in her home, which not many know!), but she also marched into the Gestapo police headquarters twice after they were arrested to try to buy their freedom!
Ever quiet and calm, Miep always talked about how she felt she did nothing out of the ordinary, nothing beyond what any person of conscience would do in such circumstances. I see her as an amazing role model, relevant to these times and any place where groups of people are persecuted, and I wanted to share her story with kids.
Why did you decide to focus on Miep’s relationship with Anne’s diary in this picture book biography rather than her many courageous acts like the one you just described?
Writing a PB bio, as author Donna Janell Bowman wrote recently, “is like carving a giant Redwood down to an 8×10 picture frame.” You generally have 32 pages. You have to find a single thread to weave into a life story that compels kids—and there are always so many threads to choose from. So, you have to (sometimes torturously) let go of parts of the person’s story that don’t exactly fit that story thread, thus relegating some great facts to the back matter, or even the cutting room floor. This is just the process of writing a PB bio.
That said, beyond Miep’s courage, I just found her relationship to Anne’s diary so heart-wrenching and fascinating. The diary, which is arguably “the most famous diary” in the world, was this object that tethered Miep to Anne. It is what she risked her life to save for Anne, who dreamed of publishing it after the war. It is what Miep held onto as she waited and hoped for Anne’s return from the Nazi camps. Then, when Anne did not return, the diary was such a painful reminder for Miep of what she saw as her failure (to keep the hiders from being arrested), that she couldn’t bear to read it for years—even when people all over the world were reading it.
It just really got me in the gut, this very personal thread of Miep’s story. It provides kids an emotional touchstone, as well as an early reverence for Anne’s diary as a historical and personal object, and I chose to focus on that thread in this book.
Some people may question whether the topic of the Holocaust is too sad or scary for elementary school children. How do you respond to that?
That’s a great question, and one I’ve thought a lot about. Firstly, this book is not geared to pre-K or the youngest elementary school children. I’d say its sweet spot is second to sixth grade. Secondly, our team on this book (myself, editor Sarah Rockett, and illustrator Jordi Solano) worked very hard to make it age-appropriate for kids, focusing on the good Miep did, while also not shying away from the emotions and the fact that prejudice can ruin many lives.
I’ve been thrilled to have validation from expert readers that we walked this line well, by places like The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect (from which we have an endorsement on the book jacket) and Kirkus (which said, in a starred review, that the book “narrates the terrible facts accurately, not understating them but not allowing the horrors to overwhelm the intensely heroic accomplishment of this kind, courageous woman”).
Mostly, though, I think it’s critical to have conversations with children from the get-go about prejudice, social justice, integrity, compassion, and standing up for what we feel is right. My friend Nancy Churnin, author of Martin & Anne (another Anne Frank-themed book released in this year when Anne would have turned 90) recently cited the poignant Oscars & Hammerstein lyrics in a similar discussion: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
In short, we cannot shield children from the prejudice in this world; they will learn it one way or another. So, I’d rather read and create books for kids that deal with it sensitively and intentionally—to “carefully teach” kids NOT to hate and fear, to recognize the folly of prejudice and fight against it…just as Miep did.
* * * * * BOOK GIVEAWAY * * * * *
One lucky winner chosen from those who leave a comment on the post will receive a copy of Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary!
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