Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood and Greg Dawson

I'm honored to turn over my blog for the day to Susan Hood to discuss Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis. Thank you, Susan! 


Illustration Credit: The Balbusso Twins
Design Credit: Laura Mock

Thank you, John, for hosting the cover reveal for Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis. The book is a nonfiction middle grade biography in verse about two young Jewish sisters, both acclaimed piano prodigies, who used their musical talent to outplay the Nazis when Hitler invaded Ukraine at the dawn of the Holocaust. I discovered this true story while doing World War II research for Lifeboat 12. I read an adult book entitled Hiding in the Spotlight by Greg Dawson and couldn’t stop thinking about 14-year-old Zhanna (alias Anna), her 12-year-old sister Frina, and what their story says about the courage of kids and the life-saving power of the arts. I contacted Greg, Zhanna’s son, and (over a five-hour lunch!) we decided to team up to retell the story for a middle grade audience. Happily, Zhanna and Frina ultimately escaped to America and received full scholarships to the Juilliard School of Music, becoming celebrated concert pianists. They tucked the story of their perilous adolescence away, never speaking of it to family or friends, until fifty years later when Zhanna’s eighth-grade granddaughter got a school social studies project to interview a relative. She wrote a letter to Zhanna, innocently asking: “What was life like when you were thirteen?” That opened the floodgates. As one of the only known survivors of the Drobitsky Yar killing field, Zhanna realized that the world needed to hear this little-known story of how the Holocaust began.

One of the first things Zhanna confided to her granddaughter was that Nazis were the ultimate bullies. She was surprised to find that death mattered little; what hurt more was being harassed, ridiculed, and laughed at for things beyond their control. “Humiliation is much worse than death,” she said. “I guess our honor is life itself.” As authors and parents, we knew these wise words would resonate with middle schoolers.

We decided to write the book in verse, using lyrical language to echo the music—composed by Chopin, Brahms, Mozart, and Bach—that was the girls’ salvation. We combined Greg’s extensive research and primary sources with Susan’s poetry to create a nonfiction biography in verse. As Greg says, “Alias Anna brings the story of the Shoah in Ukraine to a vast new audience, arguably the most important one of all, the next generation to inherit the world and become keepers of the flame. Never again.”


Look for Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis on March 22, 2022. 

HarperCollins' Description: When the Germans invade Ukraine, Zhanna, a young Jewish girl, must leave behind her friends, her freedom, and her promising musical future at the world’s top conservatory. With no 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, Zhanna flees 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.” 

This incredible true story in-verse about sisterhood, survival, and music is perfect for fans of Lifeboat 12, Inside Out and Back Again, and Alan Gratz.

Includes extensive back matter with original letters and photographs, additional information, and materials for further reading.

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