Friday, August 24, 2012

She Is Too Fond of Books: Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures

My eyes lighted on the small, square book displayed at the library, and I instantly recognized the face on the cover. Numerous small black and white photos of a small girl exhibit a variety of emotions: hesitant, unsure, and thoughtful, but mostly smiling, even grinning.

Anne Frank, circa 1936. And I could not resist her.

Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures, written by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol and published in America by special license from the Anne Frank House, is, quite simply, a jewel of a book.

Its thick, coated pages are rich in photographs, providing a photobiography of Anne’s life as well as not-to-be-missed photos of her diary and many of its pages. Her handwriting, her funny comments, the very items she chose to save, to hold on to, all work together to bring a deep sense of realism to a life so well known as to almost be de-humanized, like a celebrity.

“I once asked Margot if she thought me ugly. She said that I was okay and had nice eyes. A little vague, don’t you think?” – Anne Frank, October 14, 1942

The authors’ text serves as a narrator. Their style is simple and straightforward, stripped almost bare, like the rooms in the secret annex themselves.

“During the war they took everything and I want to leave it like that.” – Otto Frank

This journalistic approach allows Anne’s voice, as well as those of other people, in the form of quotations, to take center stage.

“I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs, and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage.” – Anne, October 29, 1943

Helpfully, terms that might be unfamiliar to readers (Kristallnacht and Occupation of the Netherlands, for example) are asterisked and explained in the glossary at the end of the book. Although some terms were, of course, familiar (Gestapo, Adolf Hitler, anti-Semitism), I found myself flipping back to the glossary a number of times. Have you heard about the Hunger Winter of 1944 in the Netherlands? What about Dolle Dinsdag (Mad/Crazy Tuesday)? Did you know the word holocaust literally means “burnt offering”? Did you learn about the Dutch Resistance when you were in school? I didn’t.

Another feature: this book does not end with the betrayal and arrest of the eight people hiding in the Secret Annex. Through the narrative, photos, and eyewitness accounts, readers learn of Anne’s later experiences: her life at Westerbork, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen; Anne’s and Margot’s deaths from typhus; the liberation; Otto Frank’s return to Amsterdam, where he hoped to find Anne and Margot alive; publication of Anne’s papers; the birth of the Anne Frank House; and investigations into who had handed them over to the Nazis.

“Everyone out! Leave all luggage behind! Women to one side and men to the other!” – Loudspeaker command to newly-arrived prisoners at Auschwitz

Heartbreaking in its simplicity, Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures merges both into an undeniably vivid and moving depiction of Anne’s short life. Further, as a companion resource to The Diary of a Young Girl, this book provides an essential visual to the voice in the diary. It is one thing – a moving thing -- to read Anne’s story of what happened. It is quite another to put faces with names, to see these characters as real people – children who swam in the ocean and played with their friends, mothers who scolded and loved, fathers who did their best to provide and care for their families, teens who argued and bristled. . . .

I can't find words to describe my connection with this book.

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” – Anne, July 15, 1944

When I closed the book, I couldn’t help but doubt.


  1. My highschooler was uninterested in WW11 per se but we did an in depth study of the resistance in all occupied territories ~ Anne's diary was part of that. I believe my child learnt more of what really happened during the war years from that. The Dutch got away with some truly amazing resistance ~ more than anywhere else. It is worth a study. There were some great souls who stood against Nazism to their very last breath so perhaps Anne was right after all?

  2. Hello, just calling over to look around after Jeanne's introduction on her post this morning. Thanks for having me. Anne Frank's story is always moving. This looks like an interesting book. Although she ends with believing that people are basically good, we know that "the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked" without God.

  3. That looks like a great book. I don't know if I could bear to read it just now, but do you think it would be good to buy as a kind of corollary to her diaries (which I have the updated edition of)? So that both could be read together, in some sense?

  4. Ganeida and Ruby, welcome and thanks for stopping by! You both make excellent points.

    Christine, YES, this book would be a wonderful companion to Anne's diary. Perhaps it will be easy to find at your library...?

  5. Great review Ellen. I gave Hannah and her friends the diary as "goody bag" gifts for M's birthday party and they were genuinely delighted.


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