Yona Zeldis McDonough’s first novel is The Four Temperaments (Ballantine). Her children’s biography, Anne Frank (Henry Holt, 1997), was illustrated by her mother, artist Malcah Zeldis.
When I first read The Diary of Anne Frank in 1968, age 11, I was most interested in Anne’s burgeoning womanhood, her struggles with her mother, her growing attachment to Peter. In short, I was drawn to the experiences that were most like my own. I have to admit that the story of the war—the fear, the hiding, the eventual disastrous exposure— was not at all real to me. It somehow seemed to exist in some distant past, in a place I had no contact with, enacted by people who could no longer do any harm. At that time, the war was still fresh for many who had somehow managed to live through it. And yet the distance that those brief decades imposed might as well have been centuries—at least for me.
Years later, as an adult and a mother, writing a children’s book about Anne Frank, I returned to the diary. I was visited by a palpable sense of claustrophobia. When [ came to the often quoted line, the one that revealed Anne’s belief that people were really good at heart, I could neither accept nor believe it. When the fragile curtain that concealed her existence was ripped away, when Anne and the others had to endure the hideous transport, Westerbork, and later Auschwitz, the diary cannot follow them on that final journey. If it had, perhaps Anne would not have written such hopeful words.