The Questions That Young Learners Ask about Anne Frank

Article excerpt

/ want to go on living even after my death! And therefore lam grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?

(Frank, 1958, p. 177)

The diary of Anne Frank has been translated into over 50 languages and has sold over 25 million copies (Schnedler, 2004). From the late 1940s to the present, no other young person has been the object of so much international attention, empathy, and research; and so many books, articles, movies, and documentaries. Her story resonates with every age group, and it has a timeless quality to it. Anne's account of living in the Secret Annex easily translates itself into a vicarious experience for each reader who can only wonder how he would have coped with living in such a confined space, staying inside for over two years, interacting with the same clashing personalities, and realizing that a single knock at the door could signal the beginning of an unmentionable horror.

The purpose of this article is not to recount the story of Anne Frank or to argue for its inclusion in an elementary school curriculum that may often neglect history/social science. Rather, I offer authentic questions from fourth graders about the story of Anne Frank to elementary teachers so they can be prepared, even overly-prepared, when they respond to sincere and often challenging inquiries about her life; and so they can have a historical dialogue with children that is intellectually stimulating and emotionally memorable for both them and their students.

Throughout California and other states where Open Court (SRA/McGraw Hill, 2000) has been adopted, fourth grade teachers have found themselves facing the challenge of introducing children to the story of Anne Frank. "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" (Mooyaart-Doubleday, 2000) is included in Open Court's 4th grade basal as one of several stories that share the theme of "Surviving." The selection contains a short introduction, nine pages of content taken from three of Anne's diary entries (dated July 8, 1942; July 9, 1942; and July 10, 1942), 10 illustrations, a short conclusion, and a half page of student activities that are listed under the heading "Theme Connections." In relation to the last year of Anne's life, the following excerpts contain the only details:

In 1944 the Franks were discovered and taken to concentration camps. Of the eight people in the Secret Annex, only Anne's father survived. When he returned to Amsterdam, Miep and ElIi gave him the diary they had found in the Annex" (p. 404). Her father found these diaries after her death in a concentration camp in 1945 and had them published" (p. 394).

In the section entitled "Theme Connections," the following questions appear: "What people would you miss?" "What activities would you miss?" "Would you miss any special foods?" Needless to say, children will want much more of the story than is told in the selection, and it will take more than these simple questions to stimulate a rich and rewarding conversation about Anne Frank. Here is where a teacher's preparation, sensitivity, expertise, and personal knowledge of her students are essential.

On two occasions in recent years, I have been asked to be a special guest in fourth grade classrooms where children have just finished reading the story of Anne Frank from Open Court. Before I visited the students, I asked their teachers to have them write several questions that they would like to ask me on a piece of paper. Both experiences were incredible. I found children anxiously awaiting an opportunity to ask sincere and serious questions about Anne Frank. Classroom management was nearly perfect. Almost every child was totally engaged. …