Review of Alias Anna, by Susan Hood with Greg Dawson

Alias Anna

A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis

by Susan Hood
with Greg Dawson

Harper, 2022. 339 pages.
Review written August 19, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

The only sad thing about this book telling a true story is that I’m afraid kids looking for a gripping historical novel in verse may not find it in the nonfiction section, but it would give them that reading experience.

This is the true story of Greg Dawson’s mother Zhanna and how she survived the Holocaust. He’s written the story for adults in his book Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy’s Story of Survival, 1941-1946. Susan Hood took the story and put it into poetry and language for children the same age as Zhanna was when World War II began to impact her life.

Zhanna and her younger sister Frina were child prodigy piano performers in Ukraine, already having performed on the radio and concert halls throughout their country before World War II hit.

First Stalin came, causing their family trouble, and then the Germans, causing even more trouble. Zhanna was 13 years old when her family was part of a death march — marched into the countryside, where thousands of Jews were gunned down. But on the march, her father bribed a guard, and Zhanna escaped.

However, her old town wasn’t safe, because she was famous for her performing, and her neighbors knew she was Jewish. She changed her name to Anna and got a new passport with the help of kind strangers. This book tells the saga as Anna and her sister ended up in a troupe performing for the Germans during the war, winding up in Berlin and traveling through the German countryside. They were used to build up the spirits of the German people, but this way of “hiding in the spotlight” saved their lives.

This is a story I might not have believed if it were fiction, as there were definitely coincidences along the way that saved her life.

Because of being poetry, this book reads quickly — but that’s also partly because it’s hard to stop turning pages as Zhanna is surrounded by danger all along the way.

This is one where you’re happy to be told at the beginning that this story is someone’s memories — you’re so glad to know right up front that she survived.

I hope kids who enjoy historical fiction will find this book, because it fits right in with other World War II novels, with maybe a few more coincidences and narrow escapes!

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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