Book Review: Hana's Suitcase

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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• The Holocaust

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What a wonderful way for young people to learn about a terrible part of history! Karen's Levine book Hana's Suitcase is the story of past and present, centering on a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust (past) and a Japanese woman trying to find out more about that girl's story (present).

Hana Brady considered herself a normal girl, with an older brother and parents who loved her. One at a time, these family members were stripped away from her during the frightening days of World War II. Because they were Jewish, they were treated differently. Finally, Hana herself was sent to Auschwitz.

Fumiko Ishioka is the director of the Tokyo Holocaust Center. She works tirelessly to tell Japanese children about the horrors of the Holocaust, so such a terrible thing won't be repeated. In 1998, Ishioka traveled to Auschwitz, where she visited the museums there. She asked to borrow children's things, like shoes or clothes or a suitcase, that she could display at her center, to help Japanese children understand that Jewish children, too, suffered. One of the things she received was a suitcase with the name Hana Brady.

The story unfolds from there, with the author expertly interweaving Hana's and Ishioka's stories, alternating chapters. We see Hana growing up happy, playing with her big brother, George. Then, we see Ishioka telling her students about concentration camps. We learn a little more about Hana and George and the number of new laws that restrict what they can do. Then, we learn how Ishioka keeps trying to find out anything about Hana.

As Hana's story becomes more desperate, so does Ishioka's. She runs into what seem to be dead end after dead end. But she doesn't give up. Lucky enough to be in a town where Hana lived but unlucky enough to arrive on a day when the only people who could help her find out more about Hana are on holiday, Ishioka insists that she must discover more about this sad little child. Her persistence is rewarded, and another piece of the puzzle fits into place.

This book is filled with stories of love and determination, of sadness and happiness, of loss and success. Hana's and Fumiko's stories as two stories and as one story. The author does an expert job of balancing the two stories, and she writes with such a flair that you as the reader are reminded that a book doesn't have to be fiction to be a page-turner.


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