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October 16, 2020 1:24 pm

New Children’s Book Highlights Heroism of Anne Frank

avatar by Gary Shapiro

The cover of the illustrated book ‘I am Anne Frank.’

We can all aspire to be heroes. 

That is the lesson of an illustrated book series that recounts contributions that a wide range of individuals have made in the world.

Sonia Sotomayor, Billie Jean King, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin are among the 22 short illustrated biographies so far in the series for children from kindergarten through about fourth grade.

“The series has grown because we’re in an age where people are starved for heroes,” Brad Meltzer, the writer and creator of the series, told The Algemeiner.

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Few books in the series are more poignant than one about the young Jewish girl Anne Frank. She went into hiding with her family from 1942 to 1944 during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. 

The family tried unsuccessfully to leave the Netherlands for the United States. As Jewish persecution increased, the family hid in rooms in a secret annex behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked.

This new illustrated book, titled “I am Anne Frank” draws upon words from Frank’s own “The Diary of a Young Girl” in which she recounts her thoughts and feelings during this clandestine episode of her life. Her diary, translated into 70 languages, became one of the most well-known books in the world. 

“The book ‘I am Anne Frank’ has been without question the most important book I’ve ever worked on,” said Meltzer.

Christopher Eliopoulos is the illustrator of the series.

Regarding the secret annex, Frank noted, “It may be damp and lopsided, but there’s probably not a more comfortable hiding place in all of Amsterdam. No, in all of Holland.”

In late 1944, Anne Frank and her sister were deported to Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen, where they perished.  

The diary, which Frank received as a birthday present and had a lock to protect it from being opened, recounts her experience living in hiding. A film lover, she decorated her walls with pictures of movie stars from a collection of her magazines that her father surprised her by taking along. 

Part of the book opens with showing how Frank likes to play hide-and-seek, as well as ice skate. Meltzer said young readers see how “this little girl is just like them.”

Over one million people annually visit the annex in Holland where she and her family went into hiding.  One brief character in the book “I am Anne Frank” said, “By remembering and telling Anne’s story we make sure nothing like this ever happens again.” 

Meltzer said Anne Frank believed that people are truly good at heart. He said, “Our kids need that message especially today.”

What was the origin of the book? Meltzer recalled, “I walked into my editor’s office and said I’d like to do a children’s book about the Holocaust, I thought she was going to kick me out of there. To her credit, she said, ‘I think it’s the exact right time.’”

Meltzer contacted the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, who put him in touch with a historian. The author likewise contacted the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect located in Atlanta to get advice with dealing with a subject of such sensitivity.

“There’s a fine line between educating and scaring,” Meltzer noted.

He added, “The book teaches children about kindness, compassion and character. Our kids need hope right now. There’s no better hero to teach that than Anne Frank.” 

Meltzer emphasized, “I want my own kids to know that even in the darkest places you can still find light. It’s a vital lesson for all of us.”

“The book ‘I am Anne Frank’ enables you to have conversations with your kids that become really rewarding,” he said. “For our kids, the world is a scary place right now. There’s so much to worry about now. It’s nice to put a little hope back into the universe,” Meltzer said.

The conclusion of the book goes, “Throughout your life, you’ll find people who need help. Be a helper.”

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