Grateful American Kids

Riva’s Reality
Refugees from Holocaust &
War in Ukraine

Written by Anna Vorozhtsova
Illustrated by the Forest Grove Elementary Sixth Grade Class 2022
For the series A BOOK by ME - True Stories Written by Kids for Kids

Spring of 2022 brought a wonderful and unique experience to students and the A BOOK by ME team. I recently retired but I’ve worked in high school foreign exchange programs for 20+ years. I specialized in working with students in developing countries who come to the USA on scholarships. Some from the former Soviet bloc, others from Africa or the Middle East, etc. This work is part of a U.S. State Department program. This past spring I met an 18 year-old girl named Anna from Ukraine on a Zoom call. Understandably, she was experiencing anxiety about the war in her country and we had conversations about the number of orphans increasing there.

I asked Anna if she would like to write a story of a Jewish Holocaust survivor since another exchange student from her country had a grandmother survive. Lev Barenboim wanted his grandmother’s story told for young readers so just weeks after the war started, Anna learned the story of Riva Barenboim. She actually wrote this story as she fled Ukraine, in four different countries (Ukraine, Poland, Germany and Belgium). Anna began writing about Riva, a little girl whose family moved from danger through various countries (including Ukraine) to find a safe place to live. Ironically Riva’s safe place was Russia, the very country who is trying to destroy Ukraine right now. Both Riva’s and Anna’s wish is that this war ends soon and there is never anything like this again.
Deb Bowen, A BOOK by ME

Riva’s Story: One morning Riva and her sister Inna were awakened by their mother who said they must leave immediately. They were taken from their comfortable home in Romania on a long journey by foot, horse and cart, and train to safety in Russia. This is where they survived the Holocaust and after the war, Riva married and raised her family in Ukraine. As the author of this amazing story, Anna now fully understands on a personal level what it takes to leave your home and everything you love behind. Riva’s Reality was illustrated by 6th grade students in Iowa who worked with leaders in the comic book industry. They learned many valuable lessons and how to effectively tell a story with art.
Read Riva’s biography >

Riva Barenboim (right) with sister Inna

Anna had this to say about her experience with Riva: “Riva’s story reminded me of the people who have been impacted by the Russian invasion on my country. I realize that it’s important to learn our history and even though it’s painful to hear the horrors that people encountered decades ago, it’s detrimental for building our future.” – Author Anna Vorozhtsova

Riva’s Reality is available on AMAZON.


“As I wrote this story, my parents sent me away from danger, so I traveled by bus to Poland, then to Germany, and finally to Belgium where I’m living now. This book was written in four different countries, even as I wrote about a little girl whose family moved from danger through various countries (including my homeland of Ukraine) to find a safe place to live. Ironically, her safe place was Russia, the country who is destroying Ukraine right now. My wish is that the war in my country ends soon, and there will never be anything like this ever again.”
Peace, Anna Vorozhtsova, author

The sixth grade class at Forest Grove Elementary School, Bettendorf, Iowa believes in doing school differently by engaging in real and meaningful work. As a result students see possibilities and potential in themselves, others, and the world.

Artists are Samantha Holmes, Evan Sels, Allie Locke, Bianca Youngberg, Logan Staats, Mikayla Arp, Carter Smith, Averi Cary, Rowan Scott, Mi Young Stone, Maeli Sanchez, Callie Bulman, Arabella Vanway, Amelie Paul, Priya Kubalsky, Ivy Pomykala, Nevaen Henry, Jada Smith and Chase Hunnemulle.

“Working for Riva is like capturing a moment in time to share with the world. Although preserving a story comes with great responsibility, it’s a chance to bring more justice to all of the stories buried beneath the layers of complexity. By being able to peer through a new lens, I’m able to understand history on a different level.  WWII, for some people, was just a time period in a textbook. It was personal.” Allie Locke

“Creating this book means so much to me because with the opportunity to share Riva’s story, I have a voice that will not only impact Riva’s life, but everyone who reads about her life too. Being given this opportunity also gives me the chance to show what I’m really capable of, and to show that even if others can’t speak up, I will.” Amelie Paul

“Being part of the storytelling effort for Riva makes me feel very professional and very responsible. Being part of the voice of someone who survived WWII is just an awesome responsibility and opportunity to take part in.” Logan Staats

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that allows me to share the story of someone else’s childhood that was taken away by war. This project has allowed me to reflect on myself, and what I have, that some people never experienced. Riva’s story is so mind blowing and gut wrenching and it makes my stomach twist and turn at the thought of living through it.”  – Callie Bulman

A BOOK by ME, a book series developed by Deb Bowen, empowers students to preserve history by telling the story of unsung heroes in our communities. For the young participants, it’s a guided cross-curricular project that gathers stories of people who do amazing things but have received little or no recognition. Students learn how to publish a picture book that is a primary source document with photographs and a biography.

Since 2003, Deb Bowen has been arranging meetings between students and individuals from the WWII generation. This intergenerational storytelling results in unique storybooks written and illustrated by kids for kids in the A BOOK by ME series. More about Deb Bowen >

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