Johanna Reiss, née "Annie" de Leeuw, was born to a Jewish family in Winterswijk, The Netherlands. She and her older sister survived the Holocaust by being hidden for nearly three years in the tiny attic of a farmhouse in the rural village of Usselo by farmer Johan Oosterveld and his family. After World War II, she became an elementary school teacher. She emigrated in the early 1950s to the USA, where she married Jim Reiss, with whom she would have two children. On his urging, she wrote the now-classic young adult novel, The Upstairs Room (1972), based on her personal experiences. It won her numerous awards and she produced a sequel, The Journey Back (1976), which described her family's return to their home and attempts to rebuild their lives after the war.
In a memoir written for adults, A Hidden Life (2009), she confronted memories of childhood as well as her husband's suicide at age 37. An active public speaker, she visits schools to talk to students about the times she lived through.