Review: Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis

Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis

by Susan Hood with Greg Dawson

Harper (imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Karin Fisher-Golton

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Among its many strong attributes, Alias Anna is a tribute to the power of girls. A modern girl’s bold and caring question leads to her grandmother sharing a story she had kept inside for decades. And the protagonist, Zhanna, and her sister Frina’s talents and resourceful choices help them survive Holodomor (the Stalin-contrived Ukrainian famine), local antisemitism, and the Holocaust. Despite having very different personalities, both sisters love music and piano from a young age. They become the two youngest scholarship recipients at the Kharkov Conservatory of Music. While their musical talents contribute to their survival, their notoriety as performers creates obstacles as well.

Susan Hood adapted Greg Dawson’s extensive interviews and projects for adults to portray Dawson’s mother’s story as a verse novel for a middle grade audience. The verse format is an effective method to convey a sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes terrifying, sometimes inspiring story to young readers. Hood’s eloquent, intelligent poems, while mostly free verse, include a variety of other poetry forms. Hood incorporates direct quotes from Dawson’s interviews with Zhanna, which provide immediacy and a vital perspective. An extensive back matter section includes details about the poetry, Dawson’s research process, family’s history, and historical information, in addition to family photographs and sources of more information. A helpful map appears in the book’s front matter.

Zhanna’s unique situation, the deftly written poems, and the inclusion of the Ukrainian pre-war time period make this book stand out among Holocaust books. Zhanna’s family is not religious, so Jewish tradition is minimal, but Jewish experience is ever-present. This outstanding book meets all criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.
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Reviewer Karin Fisher-Golton is a freelance children’s book editor and the author of the board book My Amazing Day: A Celebration of Wonder and Gratitude; retellings of folktales for a reading program; and poems in several anthologies. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Read more about her work at