Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Real Anne Frank

If you are teaching 8th grade language arts, there's a good chance that Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's two-act play "The Diary of Anne Frank" is in your textbook.   Hello, 1959

Don't get me wrong.   I'm grateful that Goodrich and Hackett dramatized this important primary source, but it could use an overhaul.   Writer Wendy Kesselman thought so too when she published an adaptation of the play in 2000.   She also organized the play into two acts, but she did not further divide the text into scenes.   Having scene breaks makes a play easier to negotiate in a classroom setting.   Additionally, Kesselman opted to get rid of the flashback structure of the previous dramatization.   The adaptation remains truer to Anne's diary and historical facts, but the play still lacks the dynamic nature of Anne's diary.  

In teaching the 1959 version, I find myself interjecting constantly to point out changes that the playwrights made to fit the diary to the stage.   Most of the changes were probably to simplify a comprehensive and complex text for a wider audience.  

The last two scenes frustrate me the most.   Mr. Frank's brief explanation of what took place after the inhabitants of the annex were taken to camps leaves too many questions, and some of the information is simply not in line with historical fact.   Kesselman does a better job explaining what happened to each "character" in her version.  

Additionally, when the Nazi officers enter the annex to force the families out, Kesselman's Anne does not write a final entry in her diary.   What does Anne's real last diary entry look like?   You should share this with your class.   Many of the ideas that run throughout Anne's journals are present in her last letter to Kitty, but it's not the concocted wrap-up in the 1956 play, "And so it seems that our stay here is over.   They are waiting for us now.   They've allowed us five minutes to get our things."   Can you imagine your teenage self writing anything while you are in such a dangerous position?   Anne knew what was happening in the outside world from listening to radio broadcasts.   She was very aware of the horrific possibilities that resulted from their discovery.   She did not write a pat goodbye note to her diary.   Who would?

Finally, both plays are missing a key "character" in the discovery scene.  Miep Gies was there!   This is incredibly important to understanding the full heroic nature of this amazing woman.   Read a captivating Scholastic interview with Miep Gies.

I should probably confess to you that I am not a big fan of historical fiction that morphs the carefully documented thoughts, feelings and experiences of a real person for dramatic purposes.   Real life is dramatic enough.   I like my history to come from the non-fiction section of the library.   Primary sources are preferable to me.   When it comes to the Holocaust, I feel an additional responsibility to point students to firsthand accounts due to the fact that there are some people who still deny that the Holocaust occurred.   I won't spend any time giving those folks any press here.  

Anne Frank was a real girl.   Also, the Anne of her diary is endlessly more engaging, irritating, witty, curious and vibrant compared to the 1956 characterization.   If you use either play, supplement it with the actual diary entries that Anne wrote.   Why not use the whole diary?   You could, but it's a diary.   It will not appeal to all of your readers based on structure alone.   Also the length and vocabulary level may put it out of range for some of your students.  

The BBC has released a terrific dramatization of selections of selections from Anne's writings.   Please preview it before showing it to your class.   I start from the beginning and stop before the bath scene.   The Anne of this series matches the spirit of the real Anne.

Find photographs to enhance your study of Anne's life.

As of today, here's the latest edition  of Anne's diary, but I've heard that more material is yet to come.

The Anne Frank House provides many resources for you here, including a virtual, narrated tour of the Secret Annex.   You could easily spend hours on this site.   Let your students know ahead of time to bring in their earbuds on the day you let them tour the Annex.

Note: There's a part in Anne's diary that causes teen readers to show it to at least 10 of their closest friends.   January 5, 1944 goes down in Anne's diary as a day of raging hormones.   After all, she is a teenager.   Goodrich and Hackett subtly allude to this entry at the beginning of Act II.   Kesselman includes a bit more.   Use your judgment in how to negotiate this passage with your students.

Thank you to educator extraordinaire Michelle Crotteau and all of her colleagues who rounded up book donations for my classroom.  
Nestled in one of the boxes was a copy of Anne's diary which I immediately set aside to read...again.

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