Cover Image: Alias Anna

Alias Anna

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Member Reviews

This is a non-fiction account of one of the authors' (Greg Dawson's) mother's experience surviving the holocaust. She and her sister were very gifted pianists and their talent helped them survive while they hid the fact that they were Jewish and frequently preformed for members of the Nazi party and German soldiers.

It was an engrossing read and the novel-in-verse format made it quite a page turner and easy to digest. My only complaint is that it felt very factual and not particularly emotional even though these young women lived through many terrifying experiences including being rounded up as Jews and taken on a march, the bombings of Berlin, and having to hide their identities and preform for the people who wanted them dead just because they were Jewish.
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There's so much WW2 literature out there, that it's rare when one sticks out, but Alias Anna is one of those standouts. I enjoyed the story as well as the poetry format.
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Alias Anna is a children's adaptation of Greg Dawson's account of his mother, Zhana Arshanskaya, and how she and her sister, two renowned pianist prodigies in Ukraine at the time, survived the Holocaust. 

This story is beautifully told in verse and touches on the lesser-known events of the Holocaust in Ukraine. Zhana's life is saved by her father who bribes a Nazi soldier in order for Zhana to escape the death march. All throughout their journey, their father's words echo in Zhana's mind: "I don't care what you do, just live." Indeed, the two sisters establish aliases for themselves and successfully conceal their true identities from the Nazi troupe they travel and perform with. Zhana yearns to return to her homeland, but her sister refuses, knowing that they will be persecuted by their own government. Their committmen

Included in this book is an incredible back matter with a wealth of information about the events of the book. Readers will recognize the photos of Zhana's family and their belongings from the verses in the book. The authors also use this space to explain the importance of music during the Holocaust: how Hitler used it as a weapon for his propaganda, as well as a tool to help Americans sympathize with the Russian people.
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A fascinating, engaging tale, a Holocaust biography, about a pair of sisters that escaped the systematic murders of Jews in Ukraine.  Using their wits and incredible musical gifts, and some luck, they survive in part by being 'hidden in the spotlight' as pianists for Nazi soldiers' entertainment. This is an adaptation for children and teens. Highly recommend.
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I don’t know how I missed that this was a true story but I did and realized my huge mistake about halfway through. This work is so important right now. As it is pointed out in the book, how do we tell such a horrific past to children? I think this book does it phenomenally and in a different way. I don’t know many non fictions told through poetry but it was definitely unique. Amongst book bannings for stories concerning the Holocaust (including true stories) and the war now unfortunately beginning again in the Ukraine, this book and story needs to be out there.
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Amazing story in verse about Zhanna and her sister Frina, piano virtuosos, who survive the German invasion of Ukraine against all odds. It is a wonderfully dramatic account of two young girls who survived the atrocities by playing music to entertain German soldiers. Thanks to the author, Susan Hood, for providing me an ARC, and also to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to be an early reader in exchange for my review.
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With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an early copy in return for an honest review.

As Zhanna's family marches to what is certain death, her father tells her to run away and says, "“I don’t care what you do. Just live.”

This was an incredibly well written book and what a powerful story, just wow. Definitely one to add to the classroom library.
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Such a moving true tale of two Ukrainian Jewish piano whizzes, Zhanna (aka Anna) and her sister Frina, who managed to escape certain death in WWII by running from the Nazis to freedom and using their musical gifts to survive. Gripping and inspiring! 

Thanks to the authors, HarperCollins Children's Books, and NetGalley for the ARC. Opinions are mine. Out March 22.

#aliasanna
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Such a good book for a classroom setting, especially for 4/5th grade level. Will definitely be adding to my class library!
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A poignant story of a musical young girl growing up in Ukraine told in poetry and prose, Surviving communist slaughters and the invasion of the Nazis, The horrors of the time period are recounted from the perspective of the girl as she matures and learns more of the world around her and the diabolical extermination of the infirm, Roma, and Jews of Ukraine. Heart-wrenching and inspiring, Zhanna and her sister's story is researched and recounted in vivid detail. Notes at the end provide further insights and details on the atrocities committed against the Jews Photos with captions show snapshots of time periods highlighted in the poetry and prose. A moving read for young and old.
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This was lovely. I found it too advanced for what I thought was the target demographic, but I didn’t read the description too closely. It was really good.
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Beautifully written! It’s a story I’d never heard of before, and I can’t wait to share it with those that love history, music, novels-in-verse, or learning incredible stories.
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This was an incredible book. My students are fascinated by World War II and especially the brave children who manage to survive the brutality. The story of Zhanna and her sister Frina escaping death and using their talents to stay alive while avoiding discovery as Jewish is incredible. The lyrical storytelling and the variety of poetic forms create an amazing reading experience for this novel-in-verse. The back matter adds to the story as readers learn how long Zhanna kept her secret.
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How did I miss that this was a Susan Hood book? It is also coauthored by Zhanna’s son, which added so much depth to this book.

This is the true story of how one young girl used her musical talent to survive the Holocaust with her younger sister. This is written in free verse which not only adds an emotional aspect, but enhances the  musical portion as well.  Photos and the letter which inspired the book as well as historic sources are included in this book. I highly recommend reading this and sharing it with a young person.
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I highly recommend this book! It is touching, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I appreciated that the book allows readers to learn about how the Holocaust and WWII impacted Eastern Europe as the perspective of Eastern and Central Europe are not as often depicted in similar books. I think this would be a good book for juvenile to middle grade readers, and I'll be recommending it to both my library and teachers that I know.
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Alias Anna poetically paints a picture of another aspect of Holocaust survival, specifically the story of those who were already somewhat known and who had to change their real identities to survive. It tells the story of two musically talented young girls. Those readers who want to familiarize themselves with all different stories from that time period will be engaged. Susan Hood has done this story justice and has told it in a beautiful, emotional way.
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Zhanna Arkanskaya lived with her parents in Ukraine loving to explore her city and the world around her.  So much so that she ditched school and ended up in places where she shouldn’t be often enough that her candy-making father forced music lessons on her as a way to occupy her mind.  It worked.  Her mind and fingers came together on the keyboard to create such beautiful music that she was accepted into a prestigious music school and learned under the very best and was the second youngest to do so.  Her younger sister was the first! But the 1930s was not a time to be Jewish in a region that would ultimately be torn between two evils-Hitler and Stalin. Evacuated and marched towards certain death, Zhanna’s father bribed a guard to look the other while he urged his daughter to run and to “just live.” Unexpectedly reunited with her sister Frina, the two girls did whatever they could to survive and that meant hiding their ancestry with new names and new papers while using their musical genius to entertain the Nazis. Alias Anna is a true story of these two survivors and will leave readers inspired and maybe even a bit awed at how the right pieces plus the girls’ determination allowed them to not only live, but eventually thrilled. This must have book is geared toward a MG audience that generally begins to be intrigued by the WWII era and with it’s focus on the girls path to survival rather than the brutality of both the Nazis and the Red Army, can be easily placed in the hands of readers in grade 4. The richness of the NIV format and the history of the time period allow it to be meaningful for grade 8 and maybe even higher.
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This true story of one of the few survivors of a Russian concentration camp was enthralling to read.  Zhanna and her sister Frina are two of the only known survivors and they kept their story secret for years until her granddaughter wrote to her and asked about her life at 13.  This opened the floodgates and Grandma Z shared her story.  The original documentation was written by her son for adult readers.  However, Susan Hood was able to partner as a co-author and record the passages in prose.  Most of the book is written in free verse, however, it uses poetic techniques.  The author explains each type of poem used in an afterword: tercet, list poem, couplet, cinquain, ABC poem, and so on.  The book is visually appealing in addition to being a narrative feat.

The story of Zhanna (Anna)'s resistence and resilience, her near misses with capture by the Nazis and her musical talent which saved her time and again was a story I will be turning to again and again.  This is inspiring and will be popular with middle grade readers.  I plan to select this novel for our biography section at our library.
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“I don’t care what you do. Just live.”

So says Zhanna’s father before telling her to run away from the column of Jews being marched to Drobytsky Yar. Her father is smart enough to know that a massacre is coming, but he thinks Zhanna is strong enough to survive and small enough that the nearest guard will let her escape (with a pocket watch as bribe). And she does, and then she and her sister spend the rest of the war trying to stay alive.

As you might expect from a book set in Ukraine during WWII and the years leading up to it, this true story was harrowing. Zhanna and her sister Frina experienced true horrors—from the state-induced Ukrainian famine of the 1930s to the Nazi invasion and the holocaust. Because of the subject matter, this might be a better choice for the older end of middle grade and YA readers. I read it with my 11-year-old-twins and it made for some good discussions about history and warfare.

Though the subject matter is sad, the book is very well done. It’s one I won’t soon forget. There is something so compelling about young people trying to survive dark times. Each act of kindness seems more meaningful, each misstep has such potentially disastrous consequences, and each escape is such a huge victory.

Note: the style of the book took a while to get used to. It alternates third-person point of view and first-person point of view, and sometimes nonstandard font sizes and layouts are used to help tell the story. The chapters are very short, and it took a while (until the Holodomor) for my kids to be interested, but then they were hooked.

I highly recommend the book, for the appropriate audiences. I received a review copy from Netgalley and the publisher, but I plan on buying a copy for my home library when it releases next year.
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Alias Anna
A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis
by Susan Hood; Greg Dawson
Pub Date 22 Mar 2022 
 HarperCollins Children's Books,  HarperCollins
 Children's Nonfiction  |  History  |  Poetry 


I am reviewing a copy of Alias Anna through HarperCollins Children’s Books and Netgalley:



Written in free verse format Alias Anna is a powerful story about survival against all odds.






Alias Anna is the moving story  of how young Ukrainian Jewish piano prodigies Zhanna (alias “Anna”) and her sister Frina outplayed their pursuers while hiding in plain sight during the Holocaus.



She would no longer be Zhanna she’d use an Alias A for Anna.  A for alive.




After the Germans invade the Ukraine Zhanna, a young Jewish girl, must leave behind her friends, her freedom, and her promising musical future at the world’s top conservatory.   Without any time to say goodbye Zhanna, her sister Frina, and their entire family are removed from their home by the Nazis and forced on a long, cold, death march.   When a guard turns a blind eye Zhana takes the opportunity to escape and that’s what she does with nothing more than her musical talent, her beloved sheet music, and her father’s final plea: “I don’t care what you do. Just live.”   She would later discover that Frina had escaped as well.


I give Alias Anna five out of five stars!


Happy Reading!
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