Meeg's journey from meeting Miep in her 20s to writing Miep and the Most Famous Diary in her 40s.
By Meeg Pincus, author of MIEP AND THE MOST FAMOUS DIARY and founder of #DiverseKidlitNF
This book has been a long time coming for me. And I really mean a long time—if you go back to the very first time I encountered Miep Gies (pronounced "Meep Geese").
In the early 80s, I was, like nearly every tween girl of Jewish heritage (and other ethnic backgrounds as well!), captivated by The Diary of Anne Frank. (That book and also, for me, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, Judy Blume's 1980s middle grade novel about a New York City Jewish girl just after World War II who worried that Hitler was still alive and hiding in Central Park!)
Like Anne Frank, I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be understood, I wanted to make the world better...and I would've been a target for Nazis during World War II (even though I'm only half-Jewish, the Nazis didn't care!).
I could relate to Anne's dreams and worries, though I could not imagine how I'd handle her situation of being stuck indoors in hiding for two long years, only to be captured and never free again. (I was also, clearly, a bit anxious, given that I fretted about these things so much as a kid, 40 years after the war!)
Meeting Miep in the Diary
But, then, there was this person in The Diary of Anne Frank—a real person—who helped Anne and the other hiders so much, who brought an incredible, strong calm to an impossible situation. Her name was Miep, and Anne loved her so deeply that I loved her, too.
Miep brought food and supplies to the hiders every morning before she went to work in Anne's father's office below the Secret Annex (as Anne named the hiding place). She sat and talked with Anne and even spent the night with the hiders one night. She arranged for care when there were health emergencies; she found Anne paper and pens to write with during wartime shortages.
She was both a real person and a symbol that there exist actual people who would stand up for others, who were brave enough to defy Nazis, who gave selflessly. I looked up to Miep as a true hero, just as Anne did.
Miep Gies in 1945.
Meeting Miep in Person
Fast forward a decade or so to the mid-90s, and I was a recent college graduate working as a staff writer for Gazette Newspapers, the regional newspapers of The Washington Post, in Maryland.
I was a general assignment reporter, but my editor knew I most loved the feature stories on people in the community or anything in the schools. So, when he heard that Miep Gies was visiting a local school while on a U.S. tour, he assigned me to the story. (Thank you, Jeff Allanach, wherever you are!!)
I will never forget seeing Miep that day, speaking in her quiet but clear voice to all those children about Anne, about compassion, about courage. I remember her telling the kids about how she ran up to the Secret Annex to rescue Anne's diary, though she was not supposed to by Nazi orders.
I don't remember what Miep wore or the name of the school—but I remember the feeling of seeing her, hearing her, and meeting her that day. It still almost brings me to tears as I feel the swell in my stomach and throat remembering it—and I realize what it was. It was hope. Miep embodied hope.
Miep Gies in 1998, with her memoir.
Telling Miep's Story
Fast forward another 20 years, and I was in my 40s, now married with kids of my own. Still a writer, I was also going into local schools as a humane educator to teach kids about being "solutionaries" ( a humane education term) who help people, animals and the planet.
I had discovered picture book biographies (PB bios) and was using them as part of my lessons, always reading one to the kids at the end of our sessions—sharing true stories of solutionaries like Jane Goodall, Wangari Maathai, Ghandi, and others.
I realized then that I wanted to write my own "Solutionary Stories"— PB bios and other true stories of solutionaries—as they are a perfect blend of all the things I love: writing, research, children, and hope. And one of the first solutionaries I wanted to write about was Miep Gies. She'd never left me, and I wanted to share her courage and compassion with kids.
I got to researching, reading Miep's memoir, watching and reading every interview and speech of hers that I could find. She had died in 2010 at the age of 100, and there were plenty of primary sources of her life, in her words. Now, her memories of the story of Anne Frank's diary did not always perfectly match other historians' stories, but I decided for this PB bio to stay true to Miep's own words and memories. (We say this in the back matter of the book.)
I did try to find my own 1996 newspaper article about Miep's school visit, but sadly those years of Gazette Newspapers are locked away in the Montgomery County Maryland archives, not yet organized or digitized or open to researchers. I didn't need my article for the book, I just thought it would be amazing to hear my 20-something voice talking about Miep (and I'm still holding out hope for those archives!).
The PB Bio
Miep and the Most Famous Diary takes young readers from the day of the hiders' capture (which Miep always called the worst day of her life) to her saving Anne's diary in the Secret Annex, to her learning of Anne's fate and, finally, years later, to bringing herself to read the diary, which helped to heal her long-suffering heart. It's definitely an emotional story, and not a light one, but I hoped some editor would see the value in sharing it with children even so.
Thankfully, editor Sarah Rockett of Sleeping Bear Press and her team did, and she has been a great champion for getting this PB bio made, and made well. Fabulous, Barcelona-based illustrator Jordi Solano signed on to create the art; designer Felicia Macheske, who had visited The Anne Frank House multiple times, worked with him to get the visuals accurate, down to where the light comes in; and an expert reader from The Anne Frank House vetted the manuscript for accuracy as well. We've all worked together to share Miep's powerful story with today's kids.
I hope this book can introduce many children to Miep Gies, and to Anne Frank, and to the idea that anyone can be a solutionary, as they both were.
As Anne wrote in her diary, which is now translated into 70 languages and read by millions:
"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
And, as Miep said during her international humanitarian Wallenberg Medal speech:
"I feel strongly that we should not wait for our political leaders to make this world a better place. No, we should make this happen now in our homes and at our schools."
My goal is to contribute to this by sharing Solutionary Stories, just like this one.