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Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Unseen Playmate

(Anne Frank at her desk at home, just before
she and her family went into hiding)

Children have their reasons for creating an imaginary friend.

The excerpt below is an entry from the diary of Anne Frank (1929-1945). It is dated June 20, 1942, sixteen days before she and her family went into hiding to avoid the Nazi roundups of Jews in Holland. On August 4, 1944, they and four other Jews who had joined them in the “secret annex” of an office building in Amsterdam were discovered and then deported to death camps in the East. Only her father survived.

“I don’t intend to show this cardboard-covered notebook, bearing the proud name of ‘diary,’ to anyone, unless I find a real friend, boy or girl, probably no one cares. And now I come to the root of the matter, the reason for my starting a diary. I have no such real friend.

“Let me put it more clearly, since no one will believe that a girl of thirteen feels herself quite alone in the world, nor is it so. I have darling parents and a sister of sixteen. I know about thirty people whom one might call friends — I have strings of boy friends, anxious to catch a glimpse of me and who, failing that, peep at me through mirrors in class. I have relations, aunts and uncles, who are darlings too, a good home, no — I don’t seem to lack anything. But it’s the same with all my friends, just fun and joking, nothing more. I can never bring myself to talk of anything outside the common round. We don’t even seem to be able to get any closer, that is the root of the trouble. Perhaps I lack confidence, but anyway, there it is, a stubborn fact and I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

“Hence, this diary. In order to enhance in my mind’s eye the picture of the friend for whom I have waited for so long, I don’t want to set down a series of bald facts in a diary like more people do, but I want this diary itself to be my friend, and I shall call my friend Kitty.”


When children are playing alone on the green,
In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are happy and lonely and good,
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.

Nobody heard him, and nobody saw,
His is a picture you never could draw,
But he’s sure to be present, abroad or at home,
When children are happy and playing alone.

He lies in the laurels, he runs on the grass,
He sings when you tinkle the musical glass;
Whene’er you are happy and cannot tell why,
The Friend of the Children is sure to be by!

He loves to be little, he hates to be big,
’Tis he that inhabits the caves that you dig;
’Tis he when you play with your soldiers of tin
That sides with the Frenchmen and never can win.

’Tis he, when at night you go off to your bed,
Bids you go to sleep and not trouble your head;
For wherever they’re lying, in cupboard or shelf,
’Tis he will take care of your playthings himself!

~ Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Scottish poet, novelist, and travel writer; from A Child’s Garden of Verses

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