Book Review | Hana’s Suitcase
by Karen Levine

Score: 4

Illustrated with Black and White photographs

© 2003, Albert Whitman & Company.

“Really, it’s a very ordinary-looking suitcase. A little tattered around the edges, but in good condition. It’s brown. It’s big… In white paint, across the front, there is a girl’s name: Hana Brady. A date of birth: May 16, 1931. And one other word: Waisenkind. That’s the German word for orphan.” The suitcase is completely empty, but it had the effect on the children that Fumiko Ishioka, director of the Tokyo Holocaust Center, intended, “to focus on this one little life that was lost.” Trying to discover answers to the children’s many questions – Who was Hana Brady? What happened to her? – Fumiko becomes a detective searching around the world for clues to Hana’s life.

The book’s chapters alternate between Fumiko’s worldwide year-long search during 2000-2001 and Hana’s life in 1930s Czechoslovakia. It is hard to know which is more intriguing, the life of the perfectly ordinary, wonderfully charming young Hana or the search for answers by the determined and persistent Fumiko. It is the combination of both that makes this book so enriching and emotional.

Ultimately, Hana’s Suitcase is, as the Introduction states,  “a story of terrible sadness and great joy, a reminder of the brutality of the past and of hope for the future.” When George Brady (Hana’s Brother) and his seventeen-year-old daughter, Lara Hana, visit Fumiko in Tokyo and see the suitcase for the first time, the story comes full circle – past and future meet with the purpose of insuring that this terrible episode in history never repeats itself.

Simple things hold such power to transform us: a shoe, a sweater – a suitcase. I recommend and encourage you to read this gentle, yet transformative book with your children.

A note to those who purchase the Book/CD package: Hana’s Suitcase began as a radio documentary produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Company’ Sunday Edition Show that aired on January 21, 2001.  A CD of that broadcast is included in the Book/CD package. To hear the voices of Fumiko Ishioka and George Brady after reading the book, literally brings the story to life and doubles the emotions conveyed in its pages.

Grade Level: 5th – 8th

(Portions of this review originally appeared on JBooks.com)

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