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The Lost Diaries of War–A Dutch Re-Discovery

The New York Times reports how “forgotten Dutch diarists of WWII…speak at last.” Not only Anne Frank recorded her tragic experiences, but many other everyday folks did as well.

“Petronella Jacoba Margaretha Venema-van Nijnatten, recounts events including her arrest, along with her mother, by the Germans during a house search.”

Over 2,000 diaries were collected after the war and are only now getting their just due. They include all points of view, even one woman who admires the Nazis. Joan would have particularly loved the diary of a 10-year-old girl. In the original NYT article by Nina Siegal and , you can even flip the pages of her little book.

10-year-old “Leni Bijlsma collected poems in an album that was filled with contributions from friends and family.”

A Little Fir Tree Wishes You a Merry Christmas!

Christmas Tree at Marshall Field’s Department Store

My mother, Joan, wrote this Christmas poem when she had just turned 10.  Merry Christmas from 1932!

The Fir Tree

I am a little fir tree,

As green as green can be,

And if you’ll put the trimmings on me,

I’ll be your Christmas tree.

Now hear the Fred Allen Christmas Show from 1932.

Grateful and Thrilled

I’m delighted to announce that Home Front Girl has just won two awards from Literary Classics: Gold Medal in Historical Young Adult and the Words on Wings Book Award (only four books get a Top Honors, which this is).
My mom, Joan, would be thrilled. I’m so grateful.


Home Front Girl is Finalist for Book Award

I was delighted last year when my mom’s diaries in the book I edited, Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America, was released in paperback. That meant more people could enjoy my mom’s amazingly precocious insights into God, nature, love, and war. I submitted the new edition to book awards and currently it is a finalist for a Literary Classics Book Award! I’ll know more in a few weeks, but I’m so excited for Joan–only wish she could be here to share in the exciting news.

Home Front Girl is a finalist for a Literary Classics Book Award!

On the other hand, Joan herself was a bit skeptical of awards. Here she is at age 15, describing how she found out about an award she won.

Sunday, June 19, 1938

This edition from the 1930s was illustrated by Rockwell Kent

Well, I won first prize for my essay on Martin Luther today! You know, the one I sat up till 2:30 for last Saturday. Well, I won! I was so surprised! It was announced in church and I was sitting in the choir blissfully counting my feet (two of them), when I heard an acolyte whisper, “Joan Wehlen, she’s here.” And Pat poked me and I got up to receive the prize. It was a book, Moby Dick, signed by Father Carr and Mr. Hebley and inscribed “First Prize.” So there!

Today was the last Sunday School Sunday of the season. Prizes for perfect attendance given out. Little crosses. Of course I didn’t get one! Not for perfect attendance. Of the 15 who had perfect attendance so far, only seven were there to receive their prizes. Very embarrassing. You know, I promised to split my prize if I won it with Mrs. Love as she dictated some Martin Luther notes to me, but I couldn’t rip up the book, so I guess I keep it.

I also have some exciting news about more writings from Joan, which I’ll share soon!

Friends with your mother….

Stephanie Piro’s cartoon from Home Front Girl from The Militant Recommender []

I was so delighted to receive this comment out of the blue the other day from someone who had just picked up Home Front Girl.
I checked your mother’s diary out of the library, thinking I would skim it just to get a general impression of the era from a young woman’s point of view.  Instead, I read and enjoyed every word.  Your mother was an excellent writer, even as a teenager, and she had such a funny, vivacious, and clearly infectious spirit, but was also profound and occasionally somewhat prescient. 
Anyway, it was a delightful read, and I felt like I would have been friends with your mother if our lives had crossed.
P.S. There are way too few accounts of the WWII years on the homefront and the ones that do exist tend to focus on the same few themes: Rosie the Riveter, rationing, etc. Thanks for doing your part to expand the repertoire a bit.
Thank you for these kind words–Joan’s presence still makes itself felt, not only in the lives of her family and her friends, but strangers throughout the world.

Diary By Teenage Girl Found

Renia’s diary. Her sister said that she stashed it for decades in a safe deposit box because she could not bear to read it. Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

In an incredible story in The New York Times,

It will now be published in various languages. Read the heart-breaking story of her sister, her young boyfriend, and the material in the novel.

Diaries by anyone–famous or private, young or old–can tell us so much about a time period. Read this book.

The Perfect Audience for Joan’s Story

I had a wonderful time sharing Joan’s story with the perfect audience recently: the UT Austin OLLI LAMP (Learning Activities for Mature People) program.

The audience is large, welcoming, and very engaged.

My friend, the writer PJ Pierce, asked if I would speak about Home Front Girl. I was delighted to!

PJ with Liz Carpenter for PJ’s book, Texas Wisewomen Speak.

Not only did PJ provide a lovely introduction, but other dear friends were in attendance: Estelle and Don Singer. I’ve known them since time began (or so it seems). And I met PJ and them by chance in the parking lot before the talk.

Don had agreed to take on the “challenging” role of “Frazier,” in my mom’s book. Normally my husband, Jim Kilfoyle, embodies fully that deeply imagined character ;-). But as he had to teach, I asked Don to fill in. And he obliged me so generously!

Here’s the dialogue we acted: a male friend, Frazier, and Joan are walking down the hall together in early 1939.

He: “Do you believe in heaven and hell, Joan?”

I (overcome by conservation of matter): “No, I’m afraid I don’t. I suppose that disagrees with you?”

He: “No, it doesn’t. That’s good. I don’t either. What do you believe in?”

Me: “Oh, I don’t know—conservation of matter right now. It’s awfully compelling.”

He: “Yes, it is. I guess I believe in that, too. But doesn’t that disprove immortality?”

I: “Oh, I don’t know. It means we’ll live again in flowers, doesn’t it?”

He: “Yes . . . Mr. Mayfield (Bio Sci teacher) makes it all so personal, doesn’t he? . . . You know—I wanted to be cremated.”

I: “Oh, do you? I used to want to, too, but now it seems as though I’d be cheating the Earth . . . you know.”

He: “Yes, I know.”

I: “I did want to be cremated, but now I feel a sort of duty toward the Earth . . . Of course it seems awful to rot away in the . . .”

He: “Yes . . . but I suppose . . . I saw a cremation once!”

Me: “Oh—what was it like?” (I wanted to asked how it smelled, but he thinks I’m crude as it is.)

He: “Oh, it was behind a glass wall and it shriveled up and . . .”

I: “Oh—Oh!” (thinking rotting in the cool sweet earth is more natural)

He: “And then . . ..”

And so we reached the locker room and I staggered to Modern Dance.

Don and I had the audience in stitches.

It was a lovely audience, embracing my mother’s precocious political insight and warm and ironic humor. I felt she was with us as the event took place. Everyone was so lovely–thank you, PJ, for asking me!

“Home Front Girl” Wins Literary Classics Seal of Approval

Literary Classics Seal of Approval

Home Front Girl which came out in paperback recently has received another honor: the Literary Classics Seal of Approval! Along with that, their new review of the book has praised Joan as

an extraordinarily bright and insightful young girl growing up in Chicago at the advent of the second world war.  She had a profound love of literature, an introspective outlook on relationships with the opposite sex and was an extremely gifted writer.  After Joan’s passing in 2010, her adult daughter (award-winning author, Susan Signe Morrison) discovered Joan’s diaries and other collections of her writings, which she skillfully compiled into the literary treasure Home Front Girl.  This book offers a wonderfully unique and genuinely honest glimpse into the life of a precocious young girl during the tumultuous time leading up to and during World War II.  A fascinating and entertaining read, Home Front Girl is equal parts wit and grit.  Readers of all ages will delight in the verbal meanderings, assertions, and contemplations of Joan Whelen Morrison as they follow her through her early teens on up to young adulthood.  Recommended for home and school libraries, Home Front Girl has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.

You can read the entire review here. Joan would be thrilled to know her words resonate decades after she wrote them.

Christmas Editorials from 1944: ‘a new Europe, democratic, prosperous, progressive’

Members of the Women’s Army Corps decorate their tent on the Italian front in the Appennine mountains, December 1944. Photograph: Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty . As reprinted in The Guardian.

Some things never change. Like fears and hopes concerning the future of democracy. The Guardian has reprinted its editorial from December 23, 1944. Read it and see how much it still resonates today.


Armistice Day, 1941

An event that took place two days before my mom wrote this entry.

Less than one month before Pearl Harbor, Joan at age 18 reflects on what she fears will be the entanglement of the USA in World War II. Reflecting on Armistice Day, she notes the repeal of the Neutrality Bill.

Thursday, November 13, 1941
. . . Day before yesterday was Armistice Day, if you can call it that—1941 AD . . . If we live, we’ll look back on these days and know, perhaps, either that they were not as important as we thought they were—or that they were much more important. God, in the heavens, look down on the world! . . . Today they finally finished repealing the Neutrality Bill. Arm our ships and send them into belligerent ports—drums beating louder now—we had a peace meeting at school day before yesterday—what the hell, what is Armistice? Time goes on.

Nov. 11, 1941: New Army units, service organizations and State Guard units march down Broadway at 7th Street during annual Armistice Day parade one month before Pearl Harbor. (Al Humphreys / Los Angeles Times)

For more that happened on Armistice Day 1941, read on here.


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