Amid outcry, Texas school says Anne Frank adaptation will be back on shelves soon

Superintendent says version of Holocaust diary temporarily removed as district implements new policy for reviewing challenged books

"Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation." (Courtesy Anne Frank Fonds)
"Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation." (Courtesy Anne Frank Fonds)

JTA — The superintendent of the Texas school district that this week ordered the removal of “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” from its school’s shelves said Thursday that he expected the book, along with the Bible and other books that were removed following parental challenges, “will be on shelves very soon.”

In a statement, Rick Westfall also said that more than 50 copies of the original version of Anne Frank’s diary remain in circulation in the Keller Independent School District outside Fort Worth.

“Keller ISD is not banning the Bible or the Diary of Anne Frank, as has been suggested in some headlines and shared on social media,” Westfall wrote. He said that only the illustrated version of the diary had been removed from schools pending the implementation of a new policy for reviewing challenged books. “None of the books under re-evaluation were banned,” he added.

The statement did not provide a timeframe for the new policy or any additional details about the original parental challenge to the book.

Tuesday reports that the books had been removed sparked an outcry from Jewish groups and free speech organizations.

“Removing a version of Anne Frank’s diary from a school library is a disgrace,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, joining other groups like Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee and literary free speech organization PEN America in condemning the school district’s decision.

“This action will only do more harm, preventing future generations from understanding the vital lessons of the Holocaust,” Greenblatt said.

The reaction paralleled a similar outcry earlier this year after a Tennessee school district removed a different Holocaust-themed graphic novel, Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” from its curriculum, leading outside groups to ship truckloads of the books to the district.

Both instances were prompted by school boards on a hunt for what they deemed inappropriate material amid a nationwide conservative-led removal of some books and other classroom materials from schools.

The vast majority of books that have been removed from schools under this movement to date have focused on race and LGBT+ issues, which parents have objected to by claiming that such books are pornographic or that they promote “critical race theory.” But the cases in Texas and Tennessee demonstrate that Jewish-themed books have also gotten caught up in such removal efforts.

A Keller school district official sent the order Tuesday to all district librarians and teachers to remove the books, one day before the school year started. The district told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency it was acting on the orders of its new school board, which was elected in May.

The board is rewriting the district’s guidelines for how to deal with book challenges, and ordered the removal of all books that had been challenged by parents in the past year until the new policy could be implemented. An array of Jewish groups condemned the move.

Journalists take images of the renovated Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

Originally published in the US in 2018, “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” is an illustrated reimaging of Frank’s diary adapted by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman and Israeli illustrator David Polonsky. It is modeled after Frank’s original diary, which her father Otto, the lone member of his family to survive the Holocaust, first published in 1947 under the title “The Annex” and later in the United States in its most popular form as “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

The graphic novel includes extensive quotations from the original diary, reproducing entire entries in text form, and credits Frank as the author. But it also contains new dialogue exchanges and dramatic moments informed by the historical record. There are also illustrated surreal flights of fancy from Anne’s imagined perspective — such as her imagining herself as the subject of the famous paintings “The Scream” and “Woman in Gold.”

The graphic novel is the first comic-book adaptation of the text to be authorized by the Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland-based foundation that oversees the diary’s copyright and legacy. The foundation undertook the project in an effort to reinvent the message of Frank’s words and make them more accessible to a new generation of readers.

So why was this version of the book challenged in the Keller School District in the first place? The parent who issued the challenge in February did not show up to defend the challenge in front of the original committee that ruled in the book’s favor, according to Laney Hawes, a parent who served on the committee.

Nevertheless, other parents have their theories. Nicole Howard, who identified herself online as a Keller parent who supported the book’s removal, told JTA on social media that she did not know why the adaptation was challenged. She personally considers it “just a dumbed down and irrelevant version of the actual book.” But she said that the parents who challenge books in her district are primarily acting out of what she believes is a reasonable desire to remove pornography from schools.

One possible explanation: Folman and Polonsky’s book draws from Frank’s “definitive” text — a fuller version of her diary initially edited out of the manuscript by her father, but first published in full in 1995. Parents have challenged this version of the diary in the past, because of some passages in which the author describes her female genitalia and her own possible attraction to women.

The adaptation treats these controversial passages by reproducing the text verbatim, alongside one image of Anne delivering a lecture, and another of Anne wandering through a garden of nude female sculptures.

But nothing in the graphic adaptation adds anything pornographic. Designed to reach younger readers, the book does contain visual depictions of the war and of Nazi concentration camps and firing squads, but even these lack the gory details of mass extermination that can be common in Holocaust imagery.

Folman, who was Oscar-nominated for his 2008 film “Waltz With Bashir,” produced the book in conjunction with a 2021 animated film, “Where Is Anne Frank?” The film, which has not yet been released in the United States, deviates from the diary even further by telling the story of Frank’s imaginary friend, Kitty, to whom Frank addresses her diary entries; Kitty comes to life in modern-day Amsterdam and tries to reckon with the painful legacy of the Holocaust and of her friend’s memory.

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