Is the unabridged 'Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl' too much of a good thing?

The unabridged version of 'Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl' includes passages in which Frank writes about her own anatomy – leading to a call for the book's removal from a 7th-grade classroom.

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    A parent is calling for 'The Diary of Anne Frank' to be banned from a Michigan school because of passages the mother calls 'pornographic.'
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Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” is under fire again.

This time it’s for passages deemed “pornographic” by a Michigan mom who’s petitioned to have the unabridged version of the book removed from her daughter’s school. The call has drawn national attention from free speech advocates who have slammed the effort, calling it censorship, and are fighting to have the unabridged version of the book remain in Northville district schools.

At issue are passages in which Frank discovers her anatomy and shares her wonderment with readers.

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“There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it,” one passage reads. “The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!”

This passage, in addition to ones describing in detail specific parts of the female anatomy, upset parent Gail Horalek.

“It's pretty graphic, and it's pretty pornographic for seventh-grade boys and girls to be reading,” Horalek told Detroit’s Fox affiliate. “It's inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when it's really the parents' job to give the students this information.”

She added, "It doesn't mean my child is sheltered, it doesn't mean I live in a bubble, and it doesn't mean I'm trying to ban books.”

Horalek launched a formal complaint asking for the unabridged version of the diary to be removed from the school, a petition now under review. She asked that the abridged version, sans graphic passages, be swapped in for the unabridged version. Otherwise, she said, the school should get parental permission before assigning the book.

Known as the “Definitive Version,” the unabridged version of Frank’s diary includes roughly 30 percent more material left out of the original 1947 edition after Frank’s father, Otto, asked the publisher to remove certain passages. The book, which describes the coming of age of a Jewish teenager during the Holocaust as she hides from Nazi police, is a mainstay in schools around the country and has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Which is why free speech advocates have jumped on this case.

A bevy of advocates – including the Kids’ Right to Read Project, part of the National Coalition Against Censorship, as well as the National Council of Teachers of English, PEN America, and publisher Bantam Books – have attacked Horalek’s petition and are urging the school district not to ban the book. To do so, they wrote in a letter to the district, “potentially violates the constitutional rights of other students and parents.”

“The passage in question relates to an experience that may be of particular concern to many of your students: physical changes associated with puberty,” they wrote. “Anne had no books or friends to answer her questions, so she was forced to rely on her own observations. Literature helps prepare students for the future by providing opportunities to explore issues they may encounter in life. A good education depends on protecting the right to read, inquire, question and think for ourselves. We strongly urge you to keep The Diary of a Young Girl in its full, uncensored form in classrooms in Northville.”

As the UK’s Daily Mail pointed out, Horalek is not the first to complain about the Anne Frank’s diary. The American Library Association has received half a dozen challenges against the book in the last two decades, it reports, and a Virginia school district has stopped assigning the unabridged version of the book after a parent there complained. 

What do you think? Should the unabridged version be swapped for the abridged – or is that a kind of censorship?

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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