A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Anne Frank's beautifully written diary is a teaching tool on multiple levels. First, it offers a kid's eye view of World War II, written innocently and meaningfully by a Jewish teen whose family is forced into hiding during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Anne follows the events of the war via radio news broadcasts and information shared by visiting friends, as she and her family anxiously await the allies' invasion of continental Europe. Second, the book is enormously telling about the inner life of girls in their early teens. Anne articulately describes her own emotional and physical feelings as she matures, including her struggles to get along with her parents, the beginnings of her sexuality and desire for love, and her wish to make a difference in a troubled world. On another level, Anne also devotes her time to studying history, literature, mathematics, and languages (though she admits she doesn't care for algebra). Her family places a high value on education, and her father becomes her teacher as well while they are in hiding. Anne writes to relieve her stress, share with a "friend," and unburden her feelings, repeatedly referring to a quote: "Paper is more patient than man."
Despite their fear, hunger, and harsh living conditions, the Franks and their fellow inmates of the "secret annex" show amazing courage and commitment to family. Anne writes movingly about the unjust treatment of Jews, and her goal of helping make the world a better place after the war. Equally inspiring is the relationship between the families in the secret annex and the friends outside who protect and feed them. The Franks also continue to observe their faith and other family rituals while in hiding. Most remarkable is just how normal Anne is, in spite of everything, which in itself offers a reassuring message of resilience for teens and parents of teens.
Positive Role Models
Anne Frank dreamed of becoming a great writer, and she achieved that goal, though she didn't live to see her words published. In the book, she shines through as a very normal teen with talent, spirit, and a hunger for learning. Adults in Anne's diary argue and struggle with each other -- we can only imagine their stress and anxiety -- and Anne is often at odds with the grownups, but all of these people, and their friends on the outside, inspire great admiration for keeping two families alive under extreme duress for two years. The adult Anne most appreciates is her father, who seems quiet, kind, and intelligent.
Violence & Scariness
Anne and her family can hear air raids and shooting. They also regularly receive news of the war, and of friends and acquaintances being taken away to concentration camps, though it is not clear how much they know about what happens in the camps. The threat of violence is always present; the warehouse that contains the secret annex is invaded by burglars several times, bringing not only immediate danger, but the fear that the families will be seen and reported to the German police.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Anne writes about her growing sexual feelings; she says that sometimes she wants nothing but time alone to feel her breasts and listen to the beating of her own heart. She also mentions having once kissed a girlfriend and having asked that friend if they should feel each other's breasts, but the friend refused. Anne also writes a lot about her feelings of "longing" for Peter Van Daan, a teen boy whose family shares the secret annex with the Franks. She and Peter embrace and share their first kisses.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mr. Van Daan smokes cigarettes, and the Franks' friends on the outside talk about drinking wine at parties.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Anne Frank's diary is a singular, moving look at World War II from a young girl's perspective. The Franks, along with another family, the Van Daans, hide in order to avoid capture during the German occupation of Holland. Aided by friends on the outside, Anne and the others spend two years in the "secret annex": several rooms enclosed in the warehouse of Anne's father's business. While war rages outside, Anne is a normal teen, thinking at least as much about friends, and boyfriends, and how her parents annoy her, as she does about issues of the day. She is a remarkably clever, thoughtful narrator, and her diary is as entertaining as it is a significant historical document. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is required reading for many middle-schoolers, and it will be rightfully upsetting to many of those readers. Though the events within the diary offer only a glimpse of the horrors inflicted on Jewish people by the Nazis, there is a disturbing element of fear throughout. What we as readers know about what happened to Jews outside the world of the book, and what happened to Anne after the book ends, is inescapable in the experience of reading Anne's diary. Many editions of Anne Frank's diary include an Afterword, explaining the events of World War II and the fate of Anne and the other inmates of the secret annex.
Is It Any Good?
If a novelist were to attempt to invent an authentic young narrator, situation, and story arc, that writer could do no better than the teen Anne Frank did with her diary. ANNE FRANK: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL is at once instructive, inspiring, and immensely engaging. Readers of any age will feel moved by Anne's great fears and everyday problems. Teens and preteens will identify strongly with her struggles to be understood -- or to be left alone -- and will thrill with her as young love unfolds. This is essential reading for young people learning about World War II, and it's a meaningful book about the inner life of teens.
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