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Hana’s Suitcase Anniversary Album by K. Levine

Levine, Karen. Hana’s Suitcase Anniversary Album. Toronto: Second Story Press, 2012. Print.

The true story of Hana’s Suitcase began when a teacher named Fumiko Ishioka was inspired to try to answer some of the questions asked by visiting Japanese school children about a suitcase on display in the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center. The suitcase had come from the Auschwitz death camp. Marked with a girl’s name, her date of birth (May 16, 1931), and the German word for orphan (“Waisenkind”), the empty suitcase offered few clues, but Fumiko was determined to learn what she could about the owner of the suitcase Hana Brady. First published in 2002, Hana’s Suitcase told the interrelated stories of a group of curious Japanese children, the remarkable journey of discovery undertaken by their very determined teacher, and the story of an inquisitive and energetic young Czech girl who was among “the one-and-a-half million children who died in the Holocaust”.

Author Karen Levine accomplished a great deal with this book.  Not only did she teach readers about how history is discovered, she showed us that those who have been forgotten by history can, in fact, be found again.  Furthermore, she found a way to talk about one of the darkest chapters in human history in a way that is suitable for young readers, producing a remarkable book which is, at the same time, both terribly heartbreaking and profoundly hopeful.

We are told that in its first ten years the book was “published in forty-five countries and has been the catalyst for stage and film dramatizations, prose, poetry, and every kind of exploration of the worst and best humanity has to offer.  It has won national and international recognition, and holds the most awards of any Canadian children’s book ever”.  This new edition, Hana’s Suitcase Anniversary Album, includes all of the original content – including the forward by Desmond Tutu – but it offers 64 pages of additional material, including memories from one-time neighbours of the Brady family, and responses to Hana’s story from children, parents, and teachers.  The new material, while very interesting, need not inspire anyone to purchase a second copy of the book.  Nevertheless, the new edition may help to bring this extraordinary book to a new generation of young readers.  This book, in its new or original form, is strongly recommended for readers who are at least 10 years of age.

Highly Recommended: 4 stars out of 4
Reviewer: Linda Quirk

Linda taught courses in Multicultural Canadian Literature, Women's Writing, and Children's Literature at Queen's University (Kingston) and at Seneca College (Toronto) before moving to Edmonton to become the Assistant Special Collections Librarian at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta.  Her favourite children's book to teach is Hana's Suitcase, not only because Hana's story is so compelling, but because the format of this non-fiction book teaches students of all ages about historical investigation and reveals that it is possible to recover the stories of those who have been forgotten by history.