Graphic novel is a powerful medium, highlighted by Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus. I’ve found that illustrative material can be far more traumatic and visceral than words.
For me, though, Anne Frank’s Diary: A Graphic Adaptation (Pantheon, 2018) falls short. While David Polonsky’s illustrations are striking, Ari Folman’s storytelling at times feels instructive and simplistic. The adapted texts don’t necessarily carry the authenticity of Anne’s voice.
The topic of Holocaust literature for children is not without controversy. How early is too early, and how to tell the horrifying truth to children? Anne Frank’s diary is an ideal introduction for young readers, as Anne’s remove (at least in the diary) from the abject horrors of the Holocaust make her recollections far easier to bear than diaries from teens imprisoned in, for example, the Lodz Ghetto.
One reason for the diary’s universal impact is because in many ways it is simply the diary of an adolescent girl, fraught with sibling rivalry, mother-daughter tension, big emotions and young love.
When I re-read the diary some years ago I realized I’d forgotten just how adolescent it is — or perhaps reading it as an adult offered a different point of view. However, Ari Folman’s adaptation of the diary emphasizes its teen aspects too much, diminishing some of Anne’s wonder about humanity and the world that permeates the original document.
While the adaptation is certainly a contribution to the canon of Holocaust literature, it is firmly in the category of complement rather than replacement of the original. A young reader should begin with the diary, and then, if so moved, follow with the graphic adaptation for a visual exploration.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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