Committee for Children Blog

Book Review: The Freedom Writers Diary

by Erin Gruwell
Reading level: Adult

This book is a compilation of diary entries from 150 high school students in Long Beach, California, who call themselves the Freedom Writers. Their English teacher, Erin Gruwell, discovers that her at-risk students have never heard of the Holocaust. She decides to teach a curriculum of tolerance using books such as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo.

As the students start to keep their own journals, they find parallels between the characters' lives and their own. One teenager writes a letter to Zlata and compares the war she lived through in Bosnia to the “undeclared war” in America. He talks about looking out for guns and gang warfare in his neighborhood and about the friends he's lost.

Finding Hope in Literature

The students find hope for their own lives as they learn about other teenagers who have experienced tragedy and hardship. Over the course of four years in Ms. Gruwell's classes, the teens become change agents in their community and beyond. They travel to Washington, D.C. to share their stories with U.S. Secretary of Education Riley; they bring Zlata, whose story touches them, to L.A. to visit; they win the Spirit of Anne Frank award and travel to New York City to be interviewed by Connie Chung.

The Freedom Writers' stories are inspirational. I would like to have heard more from Ms. Gruwell, however, especially about the challenges she experienced along the way as her students went from being at-risk to shining stars. It all seems a bit too easy at times, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Also, 100 percent of the royalties from the book are used for the Freedom Writers' college tuition.

(Side note: All 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and went on to college.)

Reading List

Here's a list of books that made a positive impact on the Freedom Writers' lives. Choose among them for your own reading!

  • Durango Street by Frank Bonham
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • The Wave by Todd Strasser
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

If you work with middle school students, consider assigning readings from Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl or Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo next year and have students write diary entries reflecting on current events in their worlds.

Corrina Skildum
Committee for Children