Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hana's Suitcase: A True Story

Hana's Suitcase

Written by: Karen Levine
Recommended Ages: 9 and up

Hana's Suitcase is a moving account about one little girl killed during the Holocaust and the parallel tale of the journey of her suitcase to Japan some 50 years later. It's a touching story that introduces the horrors of the Holocaust in a way that school-age children (9 to 12 year olds) can handle.

The book's chapters alternate between the past and present. It begins with the story of Hana, and her early childhood in Czechoslovakia where she and her beloved brother George were the only Jewish children in their town. Their early childhood seemed fairly idyllic and carefree until 1939, when Nazism forced its way into their world.

The next chapter switches to Tokyo in 2000 where a suitcase has arrived at the Tokyo Holocaust Center. Painted on the outside of the suitcase are the words Hana Brady--May 16, 1931 and the word Waisenkind (which means orphan in German). The children at the Center are intrigued and want to know more, and the curator--Fumiko Ishioka--is determined to find out Hana's story.

From there the book details the awful circumstances that Hana went through, as her family is forced to wear the yellow Stars of David, then she and her brother are not allowed to go to school or to any public places, and finally the forced deportation of her mother, and then her father. She and her brother go to live with a non-Jewish uncle who, unfortunately, can't keep the children and they are sent to Theresienstadt, where Hana and George are separated.

Running alongside these chapters is the story of how Fumiko Ishioka was determined to find out more about the owner of the suitcase. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the story unfolds piece by piece, as she writes letters, searches archives and eventually travels to Terezin. There she discovers that Hana did not survive, but that her brother George did. The last few chapters are incredibly touching as we learn how Ishioka wrote George to tell him about the suitcase, and we discover more about George's life after the war. It's quite moving when George travels to Japan to meet Fumiko and the children at the Holocaust Center and see his sister's suitcase.

George realized that, in the end, one of Hana's wishes had come true. Hana had become a teacher: Because of her-her suitcase and her story-thousands of Japanese children were learning about what George believed to be the most important values in the world: tolerance, respect, and compassion. What a gift Fumiko and the children have given me, he thought. And what honor they have given Hana. (page 105)

There are some lovely photographs of Hana and her family in Czechoslovakia skiing, skating and doing all sorts of "normal" things before the war, as well as copies of actual documents such as the list showing Hana and George's names at Terazin. The photos and easy-to-read narrative will draw children in. Be prepared for lots of discussion. Hana's Suitcase is a moving account of one girl who unfortunately didn't survive the Holocaust, but her story lives on 65 years later.

BookNosher Tidbit: Winner of the 2002 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers.

BookNosher Activity: There is a website devoted to Hana's Suitcase. One of the more interesting sections is the FAQ, which features an audio Question and Answer session between schoolchildren and George. They ask him everything from How were you allowed to see your dog, Silva? to Do you hate the German people? I think kids will learn a lot from his compassionate and forgiving answers.


Paula (Belgium) said...

I think I am going to order this book for my daughter. She read Anna Franks diary and learned a lot from that. At this young stage I do not like my young daughter to have the facts & figures, but biographical stories like this 'bring' WWII tragically and comprehensible. WWII will never be understandable.

Robin Gaphni said...

I think Hana's Suitcase is a very appropriate introduction to the Holocaust for children. And I agree with you that biographies are a wonderful way for young readers to learn about a period of time AND identify with the protagonist. Let me know what you think.

Brimful Curiosities said...

The corresponding website is very well designed. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I'll make sure to keep it in mind to share with my children when they are older. I read The Diary of a Young Girl in middle school and was deeply affected by the book.