Anya’s Secret Society – Perfect Picture Book Friday

When I was in elementary school, one of my cousins told me her teacher rapped her knuckles with a ruler if she wrote with her left hand. (She attended a Catholic school many years ago.) So she learned to write with her right hand at school, but switched to her left to do her homework. Today’s perfect picture book selection revisits the plight of the left-handed child through Anya, an artistic little girl living in Russia.

I love how the first spread starts on the copyright/dedication page:

Text/illustration ©️Yegenia Nayberg

Anya was born in Russia, in the middle of winter.

In the summer, Anya’s mother takes her to the park.

Text/illustration ©️Yegenia Nayberg

Where she rolls a ball over and over again with her left hand.

A blue-haired lady on a bench frowned.

“Your child is left-handed,” she said.

The lady shook her head at Anya. In Russia,

doing the right thing meant being like everyone

else. And everyone else was right-handed.

And then Anya discovers a passion for drawing—using her left hand. Her neighbors disapprove. Her teacher disapproves. And over time, she learns to use her right hand. It becomes “a friend,” but it cannot learn to draw.

I love the explanation: Her right hand took care of “the world around Anya” while her left hand “took care of the word inside Anya.”

So she imagines her own secret society, one where famous left-handed artists meet and draw all night.

Until…..she and her parents move to America. Scary at first.

But the amazing part? She finds left-handed scissors, desks, and even a guitar.  Better yet, when Anya dares to write with her left hand….

Her teacher didn’t even notice.

In fact, no one notices. And when Anya sees other artists using their left hands Anya realizes her secret society “was no longer a secret.”

Acrylics and digital collage in a mix of muted and vibrant colors create a surreal, luminous atmosphere that is often quite humorous.

Nayberg provides an author’s note, explaining the autobiographical nature of this story and how as a child she wanted to be like everyone else, but more than anything she wanted to be an artist. Clearly, she has succeeded.


Try to write or draw with your non-dominant hand. Then write or draw with your dominant hand. How different does this feel?

Make secret society masks. What will the subject of your secret society be?

Title: Anya’s Secret Society

Author/Illustrator: Yevgenia Nayberg

Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2019

Ages: Pre-K – 3rd grade

Themes: hand dominance, superstition, Russia

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.

11 thoughts on “Anya’s Secret Society – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    I love this story and the line you shared about how each hand protected a part of her inner world. I’ll have to get a copy!
    This is my mother’s story — she was born left-handed (1924) and forced to write with her right hand. She had her knuckles slapped with a ruler, too. It was hard on her, but she learned to do both. I was always envious I could do that and spent hours as a kid teaching myself to write with my left hand. My writing and printing was legible. Now, I realize that my mother, like Anya, was crossing over their brain and really developing a lot of new brain cells. And, my mother was a professional ballerina and I always thought it gave her an advantage.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I think you’re right about helping develop the brain, but it sure was hard on kids, unless they were crossing over for fun. I’m glad this book resonated with you. I think you’ll love it as much as I do!

  2. Maria Marshall says:

    I love this sentence in your review – Her right hand took care of “the world around Anya” while her left hand “took care of the word inside Anya.” Thank you for highlighting such an interesting book. I look forward to getting a chance to read it.

  3. ptnozell says:

    Thank you for featuring this wonderful picture book & reminding me of how much I loved reading it & seeing more of Nayberg’s fabulous art. She’s one of my favorite illustrators!

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