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November 13, 2013 Hana’s Suitcase: Unpacking Engaging Response Activities By Lindsey Petlak
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Hana’s Suitcase (Book)

    In 2000, a suitcase arrived at a children's Holocaust education center in Tokyo, Japan, marked "Hana Brady, May 16, 1931." The center's curator, Fumiko Ishioka, searched for clues to young Hana and her family, whose happy life in a small Czech town was turned upside down by the invasion of the Nazis. Karen Levine followed Ishioka's story, creating first a radio documentary and later a book. This book’s many awards include:

    • 2006 Prize for Children's Holocaust Literature, Yad Vashem 

    • The National Jewish Book Award in the USA

    • The Canadian Jewish Book Award 2003

    • Canadian Information Book Award

    While this blog post will focus primarily on specific hands-on and tech-based activities to enhance your literature study of this text, download a FREE complete literature study unit recommended by the official Hana’s Suitcase website to guide your exploration of this amazing story.

    Literature Themes

    This text has such depth, that you could use it to teach many different concepts and themes, depending on through which lens you are examining the text. Below are a few to get your creative wheels spinning. My recommendation is to choose one or two central themes to focus on as you explore this text.

    • Perspective

    • Identity

    • Citizenship

    • Hope

    • Survival

    • Change and continuity

    • Culture and community

    • Power and governance

    • Individuals, societies, and economic decisions

    • Global connections and learning

    • European history

    • Holocaust

    • Judaism

    • Religion and philosophy


    Inside Hana’s Suitcase (Film)

    “Most recently, this story has been brought to life in the award-winning documentary feature film, Inside Hana’s Suitcase. Directed by award-winning filmmaker, Larry Weinstein, and written by Thomas Wallner Inside Hana’s Suitcase is a powerful journey full of mystery and memories, brought to life through first-hand perspectives of Fumiko, George and of Hana herself.” 

    This film premiered April 30, 2009 at the HotDocs Canadian International Documentary. (Summary taken from Hana’s Suitcase website official film description.)




    Use this FREE download file to accompany the showing of the film documentary.


    Use Book Wizard With Hana’s Suitcase

    Use Scholastic Book Wizard and the brand new Book Wizard Mobile app for iPad and iPhone to find similar books to Hana’s Suitcase by theme and level. Check out my blog post tutorials for Book Wizard and the new Book Wizard Mobile app to start exploring similar texts today! Review the Book Alike™ search results to start collecting similar books by theme and level for your classroom today. Providing additional texts for students to browse and explore as you study this text will enhance their experience and extend their learning. 


    One personal favorite Holocaust-themed picture book I would recommend is a supplemental text called One Candle, by Even Bunting, illustrated by K. Wendy Popp. This book was given to me by a student (Thanks, Ilana!) from our Scholastic Book Fair two years ago. I had never read it  before.

    Upon receiving the gift I began reading it aloud to my class. The message of the text and beautiful illustrations were so touching that it moved me to tears. In fact, I had to have a student finish reading the book to the class (seriously!). You will cherish this tale as one of your favorites . . . even if it makes you cry, too.



    A Suitcase Full of Online Resources

    Over the years, Hana’s Suitcase has created such a following that the story lives on through numerous online resources available for teacher use. Take some time to review the websites below and share them with your students so they may explore them on their own. The discoveries within each are amazing!

    Brady Family Website (Official Hana’s Suitcase site)

    Journey of Hana’s Suitcase (Tokyo Holocaust Education Center Blog)

    Hana’s Suitcase Google Lit Trips


    Hands-On Activities with Hana’s Suitcase

    The possibilities for activities to accompany this amazing text are endless! Check out these student-tested and teacher-approved interactive projects to take your literature study to the next level.


    One of the most important features of this text is the emphasis on timelines and locations. Each chapter is titled with location and year or month/year. Chapters jump between dates and locations from Hana’s life during the Holocaust and the journey of her suitcase in Tokyo during 2000-01. Reinforce the importance of timeline text features with this fun activity. My students LOVED it and were amazed at how long the finished timeline was!

    • Print off the timeline from the Brady Family Website and cut apart dates/events.

    • Use calculator tape (I snagged some for free in our teacher’s supply room) for your timeline structure.

    • Students sort through the events and put them into order. What’s great is that some events happen within the same year, so students must pay close attention to months to put them in chronological order.

    • Once in order, glue the timeline slips of paper onto the calculator tape.

    • You may also have them label the dates/location above each glued down slip on the calculator tape.

    • Students walk classmates or parents through the series of events from Hana’s life and her suitcase journey in person or via video recordings.


    What’s in YOUR Suitcase?

    As we know, Hana’s suitcase is indeed the start of this text. She was extremely limited in what she could pack in her suitcase.  Have students role play the process of making the painful decisions of what to pack and what to leave behind, considering both necessity and sentimentality of items.

    • Using boxes or legal sized file folders, students decorate the outside of their suitcase using Hana’s as a model.

    • Have them brainstorm (using a T-chart) an unlimited list of items of necessity and sentimental importance that they would like to pack if they might never return home.

    • Then, tell them they must reduce the list to 15 total items, then 10, then 5 final items for their suitcases.

    • Once their final items are chosen, students illustrate and label (using text feature skills for illustrations and captions or labels) each item in their suitcases.

    • Students share the contents of their suitcases with classmates and parents (in person or via video), indicating the item and whether they chose it for necessity or sentimental reasons.

    • Display suitcases (and QR codes to video links, if you recorded presentations) for all to see. These are quite the discussion starters!



    Slogan Posters

    My students were moved by the photograph and illustration on page 107 of the text. In this caption, children show their support for Hana’s story, Holocaust awareness, and a brighter future for tomorrow by displaying posters depicting the saying, “Let’s Learn, Think, and Act (to create peace) for the 21st century.” Their posters were, of course, written in lovely Japanese characters.

    My class wanted to make their own posters interpreting this meaningful message. I chunked the saying into five sections and students scurried to illustrate their interpretation of their “chunk’s” meaning. It was amusing to see different students illustrate the same phrases in such differentiated manners, and they were very proud of their poster creations. I plan to display them in our hallway with a message about their significance and Hana’s story.



    Sing a Song for Hana

    Poetry and songs linked to Hana’s Suitcase can be found both in the text (a few examples include pages 66, 81, 105-106) and online at the Brady Family website under the Inspiration tab (click Hana’s songs).

    • Have students read/listen to the poetry and songs related to Hana’s story.

    • Analyze them by looking for figurative language, interpreting meaning, drawing visualization based on they descriptive language of the lyrics, and perform poems/songs live.

    • After reviewing these existing examples in depth, encourage students to write their own to perform for their classmates and/or parents (live or via video recording).

    Nonfiction Text Features Scavenger Hunt

    Have I mentioned how much I LOVE Beth Newingham (maybe once or twice . . . or a thousand times)? Well, her brilliance comes to the rescue again with great ideas, lessons, resources, and hands-on activities for teaching and reinforcing the concepts of non-fiction text features. Such text features are abundant and important throughout Hana’s Suitcase text and online sites.  

    Hop on over to her Scholastic Top Teaching blog post about nonfiction text-features for endless ideas to use with Hana’s Suitcase and other nonfiction texts.

    Dowload the FREE nonfiction text features posters to display in your classroom or provide as student resources in their folders/notebooks.

    Use her FREE nonfiction text features scavenger hunt and checklist documents to make searching for these elements fun and engaging for students as they comb through the text and online resources.

    Tie in text structures with FREE downloadable posters.

    Have students create their own text features/structures book with this FREE template.


    Share YOUR Suitcase Stories!

    • I'd love to hear how YOU use Hana's Suitcase with your students!
    • What hands-on activities from this blog post, other resources, or your own imagination did you find most successful?
    • Do you have other similar texts that you use to accompany Hana's Suitcase?
    • Please share all of your tips, techniques, and lesson ideas!


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Susan Cheyney