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Michigan: Anne’s Diary Too Frank for Northville Parent

The mother of a seventh-grade student in a Detroit suburb petitioned her school to remove the unabridged version of the diary of Anne Frank from its approved reading list. Gail Horalek objected to Northville Public Schools’ use of the unabridged version of the Diary of a Young Girl, which chronicles the experiences of a Jewish girl in the years during World War II when she and her family hid in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. This version includes observations that Frank made about her changing body, including references to her menstrual cycle.

A sample passage which Horalek cited as objectionable:

“Until I was eleven or twelve, I didn't realize there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn't see them. What's even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris…When you're standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you're standing, so you can't see what's inside. They separate when you sit down and they're very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there's a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That's the clitoris."[1]

According to Horalek, her daughter was uncomfortable with the material and expressed her discomfort first to the teacher.  Northville provided her with a different book but Horalek was unsatisfied with the school district’s response.

“It's pretty graphic, and it's pretty pornographic for seventh-grade boys and girls to be reading,” Horalek said. “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.”[2]

Known as the ‘definitive version,’ the unabridged edition of the diary includes roughly 30 percent more material left out of the original 1947 edition; Frank’s father, Otto, had worked with the original publisher to cut numerous passages including the references to Anne’s sexual development. Horalek’s petition requested the school district revert to the original 1947 edition, or at least notify parents and offer an opt-out if assigning the unabridged version.

Horalek’s request triggered a national response from anti-censorship advocates, including a joint letter to Northfield Public Schools from organizations such as the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, and PEN America:

“The passage in question relates to an experience that may be of particular concern to many of your students: physical changes associated with puberty…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.”[3]


The school district subsequently convened a committee to review Horalek’s objections, and ultimately denied her request to remove the unabridged version from the approved reading list. Robert D.G. Behnke, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services, issued the following response:

 “…the committee reached a unanimous decision to continue use of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl - The Definitive Edition as an option within the seventh grade English language arts curriculum. The committee felt strongly that a decision to remove the [book]as a choice within this larger unit of study would effectively impose situational censorship by eliminating the opportunity for the deeper study afforded by this edition.”[4]

The controversy put Horalek on the defensive, leading her to clarify that she did not truly believe Anne Frank’s diary is pornography. However, she argued, the sexual passages in the ‘definitive version’ were known to have distracted seventh grade readers, who jokingly treated them as if they were everyday porn: “I think Anne Frank is a person who everyone should know, not just because of the holocaust but because she truly was special…There is so much to be gained by reading her diary.”[5]
 


[1]  Husna Haq, “Is the Unabridged 'Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl' Too Much of a Good Thing?”, Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 2013, accessed June 19, 2013,

<http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2013/0508/Is-the-unabridged-Anne-Frank-Diary-of-a-Young-Girl-too-much-of-a-good-thing>.

[2]  Maurielle Lue, “Northville Mother Files Complaint About Passages in the Unedited Version of 'The Diary of Anne Frank',” Fox News Detroit, April 24, 2013, accessed June 19, 2013,

<http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/22056965/northvillle-mother-files-complaint-about-passages-in-the-diary-of-ann-frank>.

[3] Haq, “Is the Unabridged..?”

[4]  Marta Murvosh,Update: Michigan School District Rejects Parent’s Challenge to Anne Frank’s Diary,” School Library Journal, May 13, 2013, accessed June 19, 2013,

<http://www.slj.com/2013/05/books-media/michigan-school-district-faces-parents-challenge-to-anne-franks-diary/>.

[5] Ibid.

  

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