Teacher Fired After Assigning Illustrated Anne Frank Book
In a recent edition of my blog/newsletter, I talked about book bans. It was one of those spare-of-the-moment things where I felt compelled to write about the subject after reading an interview with fantasy author Neil Gaiman:
I never meant for the resulting article to be so 'American-centric', but the reality is that, outside of countries living under totalitarian regimes, that’s where most of these modern book bans seem to emanate from. Looking back, perhaps I should have called the thing “book bans in the US.”
Regardless, one thing neither I nor many of my readers expected to see on the banned or challenged list was Anne Frank’s Diary (or, to be more specific, the revised edition of the true story). That anyone, let alone states within the US, could take issue with that vital book is beyond me. But now, only weeks after publishing that piece, history looks set to repeat itself.
According to reports, a middle school long-term substitute teacher has now been fired from her role for assigning a graphic novel book based on Anne Frank’s Diary to 8th-grade students amid outrage among parents:
The issue appears to revolve around two passages: one where Anne discusses the female anatomy (right after a section about Nazi gunfire, no less) and another where she mentions, in quite a reserved manner, a desire to kiss her friend Jacque. The graphic novel adds a section where Anne Frank passes naked statutes (and we know how some US schools feel about those) of women with the caption: “If only I had a girlfriend” - but that’s about as explicit as things get.
Anne Frank Ford (the foundation that authorized the graphic novel) has been here before, previously telling The Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they “consider the book of a 12-year-old girl to be appropriate reading for her peers.” But in this case, that’s not even what we’re talking about here.
I must admit that when I was reading about this story, I had to look up the age of 8th graders (despite picking up some unfortunate habits in my English, I am not American) - they’re 13-14-year-olds! Teenagers who have presumably long since been taught sex-ed (although some Texas authorities are attempting to crack down on that too), and are older than Anne Frank was when she wrote these ‘offending’ passages.
Would reading these passages aloud in class lead to red faces and awkward adolescent exchanges? Almost certainly. But to describe them as “pornographic,” as some parents have, is not only terribly prudish, and not only risks censoring the holocaust and Anne’s story but also turns women’s anatomy and same-sex attraction into taboo subjects. And on that latter point, I really cannot stress enough how dangerous a precedent removing mentions of non-straight relationships and desires from historical accounts sets.
As Emer O’Toole wrote over ten years ago following similar complaints about the unabridged version of the book (at that time, the issue was laughed out of relevancy, even by republican commentators), these events should “encourage us to reflect on why, when confronted with the reality of the female body and female sexuality, girls can be made to feel uncomfortable.”
Unfortunately, these types of stories are only becoming more frequent. Indeed, the graphic novel adaption of Anne Frank’s Diary was only just recently reinstated in another Texas school district following its removal alongside the bible. Though admittedly, the bible is a far more graphic tale.
With that in mind, I’ll end here with a reminder that Banned Books Week is coming up (October 1st-7th), and to keep supporting libraries, authors, and access to literature so the book burners and Nazis don’t get the last laugh.