When teenage Hanna says, "It's hard to keep the human spirit down," towards the end of My Real Name is Hanna, readers will nod. Her spirit is like Anne Frank's, but her story is quite different. It's the untold story of a real Ukranian family, a carefully researched and emotionally authentic tale about what it took to survive the Holocaust.
Author Tara Lynn Masih brings the Slivkas to life. They are a resilient family determined to escape Jewish annihilation in the Ukraine during World War II. Hanna helps us appreciate the hardships so many families faced when the Nazis came near. Sadly, this is still a timely subject though there is much more resistance to persecution these days.
Thirteen-year-old Hanna has a job working for her next-door neighbor, who makes painted pysanka eggs for the Christians, who use them at Easter. The Nazis are a distant threat. Schoolyard bullies are worse until the Nazis come to wipe out all the Jews in the community. The fathers have planned for this moment and the whole, extended family goes into hiding beneath the earth.
They'll live in a series of underground caves with minimal food and water and even less light. The men continue to provide, searching for food and allies at night; each time they go out the tension escalates. Could you survive under these circumstances? It's one of the many questions the book brings up.
Written for seventh grade and up, this story should generate interesting classroom discussions and all kinds of inventive book report projects. If parents read My Real Name is Hanna with their children, it should stimulate talk about family values, cultural values, and help adolescents feel grounded in who they are and where they came from.
If I were still teaching, I'd embrace this book and even encourage students to act out scenes from it. It's accessible and immediate historical fiction as well as a quick, easy read.
Pick up a copy and share it with your kids or grandkids. You'll be pleased by all the ideas it generates.
Tara Masih grew up on Long Island's north shore. After graduating from C.W. Post College, she earned an MA from Emerson College. She has worked as a publisher's assistant to Pym-Randall Press; as an assistant editor to Stories literary magazine; as an editorial assistant at Little, Brown's college division; and as a book editor at Bedford Books/St. Martin's Press.
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