A Florida principal recently removed Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation from the Vero Beach High School library for being “not age appropriate” after a local chapter of the anti-LGBTQ+ group Moms for Liberty (MOL) complained the book was “not a true adaptation of the Holocaust” and contained “graphic” and “sexually explicit” illustrations.
The book was challenged in March by Jennifer Pippin, chair of MOL’s Indian River County chapter. Pippin complained that one “graphic scene” in the book depicted Frank asking a friend if she’d feel comfortable exposing their breasts to one another — in the three-panel scene, Frank’s friend refuses and they both remain clothed. Another scene Pippin complained about shows one panel of Frank walking past “sexually explicit” nude female statues, WPTV reported — some of the statues’ butts and breasts are shown, but with very little detail.
“I must admit, every time I see a female nude, I go into ecstasy,” Frank’s words on the statue panel read. “If only I had a girlfriend!” A longer version of these words appears in Frank’s original diary: “Every time I see a female nude, such as the Venus in my art history book, I go into ecstasy. Sometimes I find them so exquisite, I have to struggle to hold back my tears. If only I had a girlfriend!”
The illustrated graphic novel that Pippin complained about is an adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, a real-life diary written between 1942 and 1944 by a young teenage Jewish girl whose family hid from Nazi persecution. The diary was published in 1947. Its graphic novel was adapted by Ari Folman, a son of Holocaust survivors, and published in 2017.
The diary’s 2017 graphic adaptation was only available in Vero Beach High School’s library and not in any other of the Indian River County school district’s libraries. The original 1947 book remains in school libraries throughout the district.
Indian River County school district spokesperson Cristen Maddux told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), “[The graphic novel is] not the actual diary of Anne Frank. It’s a fictional novel that has some inappropriate content in it…. [It] was removed due to minimization of the Holocaust.”
While the graphic novel “does contain some invented dialogue and surrealist scenes,” the JTA notes, “reproductions of Frank’s actual diary in the book hew to her exact words.” Maddux said she hadn’t read the book and didn’t know what “inappropriate content” it contained.
The Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland-based foundation that controls the copyright to Frank’s diary and approved its graphic novelization, criticized the book’s removal.
“[We are] generally concerned that ignorance about the [Holocaust], relativization, or denial of history are on the rise, especially in the United States,” the foundation told JTA. “We consider the book of a 12-year-old girl to be appropriate reading for her peers.”
The school district’s policies allow principals to decide how to respond to parental or community challenges on certain books. If the principal’s decision is appealed, the book then goes to a committee for parents, teachers, and district officials for review. This committee then makes a recommendation to the district school board, which makes the final decision.
This isn’t the first time Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation has been banned from schools. In August 2022, the Keller Independent School District of Texas also banned it, along with 41 books mostly focused on LGBTQ+ and Black characters that it called “pornographic.” After a public outcry, the district returned the Anne Frank book to school libraries.
In July 2022, Florida passed a law requiring books in school libraries and classroom libraries to be selected by a certified media specialist. While this kerfuffle over the Anne Frank adaptation didn’t occur under that law, at least 565 books were banned in Florida schools during the 2021-2022 school year, according to the free-speech organization PEN America.
MOL has become a driving force in the far right’s efforts to reshape public education in the U.S., advocating for what it calls “parental rights” in schools, which it defines as opposing the inclusion of LGBTQ+ rights and history in school curriculums.
The group’s past activities include offering bounties for turning in teachers who discuss “divisive topics”; attacking the Trevor Project for trying to prevent LGBTQ+ teen suicide; trying to get a book about seahorses banned for being too sexy; complaining about a book on the Civil War because it portrays “white people as ‘bad’ or ‘evil’”; trying to get librarians arrested for offering “inappropriate books”; saying that two girls briefly kissing at a school function is “lewd” and “traumatic”; lobbying in Florida for the Don’t Say Gay bill; encouraging schools to ignore LGBTQ+ History Month; and suggesting that LGBTQ+ students be forcibly isolated from other pupils.
The group has also pressured public school libraries across the country to allow book donations from conservative publishers that push anti-LGBTQ+ and white supremacist ideals, Vice News reported.
In October 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s (R) Board of Education installed Michelle Beavers, head of a local Moms for Liberty chapter, as part of a workgroup that will train public school librarians on how to follow censorship rules signed into law by DeSantis earlier this year.
In March 2023, a charter school principal in Florida was forced to resign after parents complained about her showing students “pornographic” photos of sculptor Michaelangelo’s naked statue of David during a lesson about Renaissance art. The school’s board chair, Barney Bishop, suggested that parents, rather than trained educators should decide what’s taught in Florida schools.