Hana's Suitcase: A True Story

Hana's Suitcase: A True Story

4.9 12
by Karen Levine, Stephanie Wolfe

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A biography of a Czech girl who died in the Holocaust, told in alternating chapters with an account of how the curator of a Japanese Holocaust center learned about her life after Hana's suitcase was sent to her. See more details below


A biography of a Czech girl who died in the Holocaust, told in alternating chapters with an account of how the curator of a Japanese Holocaust center learned about her life after Hana's suitcase was sent to her.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Levine expands on her radio documentary, produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for this unique approach to learning about the Holocaust. The author alternates between two chronicles, the first set in contemporary Tokyo, where a dozen children between the ages of eight and 18 form a club at a center for Holocaust education run by Fumiko Ishioka, and the other in 1930s Czechoslovakia, where young Hana Brady is enjoying a happy childhood. Fumiko obtains for the club some children's artifacts from Auschwitz, including a suitcase marked with Hana's name. She then attempts to find out everything she can about Hana. Levine cross-cuts to the tragedies that befall Hana and her brother, but does not let readers anguish; she interposes exciting accounts of Fumiko's detective work and the sense of accomplishment it brings to the club. The engrossing account of Fumiko's research offsets the author's flat prose and occasionally questionable methodology (e.g., the construction of pivotal conversations between 13-year-old Hana and a friend who, like Hana, was killed upon arrival in Auschwitz). In an introduction, Levine promises that the suitcase contains "terrible sadness and great joy." That "joy"-apparently the impact of Fumiko's research, which culminates in her discovery of Hana's brother in Toronto-may strike some as disproportionate to the circumstances, but it also reflects the club members' commitment to "building peace." Their commitment lends credence to the optimistic message passed along to the audience-that an awareness of the past can impact the future. Ages 10-13. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
At a Holocaust education center in Japan, the children wonder what happened to the owner of a small suitcase that is on display, so the director sets out to find the answer. This fine nonfiction is presented in the form of a mystery in chapters that alternate between the search for the details of Hana's life and the telling of that life story itself. The discerning reader will realize that Hana's identity was solved but cannot guess how until the closing chapters. The vocabulary and writing style are perfectly geared to the more or less fourth grade audience. Thick white paper, wide margins, and careful use of limited photos and documents make an attractive volume. A unique and appealing book. 2003, Albert Whitman,
— Beth Guldseth
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Based on a Canadian Broadcasting radio documentary produced by Levine, this book tells the story of Hana Brady, a girl killed at Auschwitz, and how her suitcase came to be a part of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center. A CD recording of the radio program is available and adds to the impact and power of the book. The story ends on a positive note by ultimately uniting Japanese schoolchildren fascinated by Hana's story with her brother George Brady, the only member of their immediate family to survive the war. The book alternates between past and present, one chapter telling the story of Hana's childhood in the Czechoslovakian resort town of Nove Mesto, and the next relating the experiences of Fumiko Ishioka, a teacher dedicated to educating the children of Japan about the horrors of the Holocaust. Black-and-white photographs of Hana and her family and Ms. Ishioka and her students accompany each chapter. As Hana's narrative draws her to Auschwitz and to the end of her life, Fumiko's story brings her closer to the solution of a puzzle that began with only a suitcase and a name. The narrative moves quickly, though the writing is often oversimplified. One can assume that direct quotes come from the memories of Hana's brother, George Brady, and Fumiko Ishioka, since they were the original narrators of the radio program, but there are no notes to that effect. Unfortunately, the stilted writing and lack of source notes mar an otherwise gripping story of a family's love and a teacher's dedication. An additional purchase for Holocaust collections.-Martha Link, Louisville Free Public Library, KY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In 1998, the director of the newly endowed Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center's museum, whose mission is to educate Japanese students about the horrors of the Holocaust, set out to obtain artifacts for display. The Auschwitz Museum obliged by sending several items, including a small suitcase with the name Hana Brady and the German word for "orphan" painted on the front. The director, Fumiko Ishioka, supported by a group of students who had formed a club to promote understanding of the Holocaust, resolved to learn Hana Brady's story. Alternating chapters tell of the director's detective work, which takes her all the way to the site of Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic, and Hana's brief life in which Theresienstadt was the last stop before Auschwitz and the gas chamber. It is at the Jewish Museum in Prague that Fumiko learns that Hana had a brother who survived the war and emigrated to Toronto. Hana's brother, George, sends Fumiko the photos that enliven this work and then himself makes the trip to Tokyo to meet the children of the "Small Wings" club. Based on a radio documentary by the author aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Hana's story will captivate young readers as it unfolds. Levine successfully incorporates the two stories: a bleak story of a young girl's pointless suffering and death at the hands of fellow humans, the other a hopeful one of children, a world away in space and time from the events that deprived Hana of her future, who vow "never again." (Nonfiction. 10-14)
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
The new edition of a perennial favorite on Holocaust education lists has been updated for a twentieth anniversary printing. The book, a multi-award winner in Canada, now includes a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and additional photos, some from a documentary based on the book. According to inserts, the book is also now available in e-format and in a multi-media commemorative edition. The story has not been tampered with, and that remains the book's strength. Hana Brady was a Czech child during World War II who was first separated from her parents, then sent to Theresienstadt with her brother, only to again be "selected" and sent to her death at Auschwitz. In alternating chapters, a story is told of Fumiko Ishioka, director of a small Holocasut museum in Tokyo who is sent a (replica) of Hana's suitcase that went with her to the camps. Intrigued by the traveling case, Ms. Ishioka literally searches the world so she can relay Hana's face to the children who visit her museum. Her journey takes her from Tokyo to Prague and, through, roundabout means, connects her to Hana's living brother in Canada. As with many Holocaust memoirs, George's miraculous survival is riveting story in itself. Hana is a relatable historical figure who led a very ordinary pre-war life. Her death is not described graphically, so this is an appropriate introduction to the period for pre-Anne Frank readers. However, the star of the book is actually Ms. Ishioka. Her dogged pursuit of Hana's life story has all the elements of a great detective story, and her dedication to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust makes her an excellent role model. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross

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Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
8 - 9 Years

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Meet the Author

Karen Levine has won many awards for her work in radio, including two presigious Peabody Awards (Canada) - one for the documentary Children of the Holocaust. This book is based on Karen's CBC radio documentary, also called Hana's Suitcase, which appeared on The Sunday Edition (Canada)and which won the gold medal at the New York International Radio Festival.

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