PPBF – The Suitcase

For many of us, summer is a time to travel. Whether you travel by car, train, or plane, or even if armchair travel is the only trip in your immediate future, no journey is complete unless you carry something along, like the object featured in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: The Suitcase

Written & Illustrated By: Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/2020 (originally published in Great Britain, Nosy Crow/2019)

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: migration, differences, memories, kindness, empathy

Opening:

A strange animal arrived one day, looking dusty, tired, sad, and frightened.

He was pulling a big suitcase.

Brief Synopsis:

When a strange-looking newcomer arrives dragging a large suitcase, the animals wonder why he’s appeared and what he’s carrying in the suitcase.

Links to Resources:

  • Find a spare suitcase or an empty box and fill it with treasures. What did you pack? Why?
  • When you meet a new kid at school or in your neighborhood, how do you help them to feel welcome?
  • Host a tea party for your friends. Better yet, invite a few newcomers to join the party.

Why I Like this Book:

As the story begins, a strange creature arrives carrying a large suitcase. Three friends, a bird, a rabbit, and a fox, question the creature about the contents of the suitcase, which, readers learn, includes a teacup, a table and chair, and even the stranger’s home and surrounding area. Not trusting that all of that could fit in the suitcase, the doubting friends decide to break it open when the creature falls asleep and discover what’s really inside.

I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that there’s a reason that I included a tea party activity, and that the wordless spread that follows the creature’s awakening may bring tears to your eyes (it did for me).

Naylor-Ballesteros’ pen, ink, pencil, and watercolor illustrations are simple renderings of the characters and appear primarily against white backgrounds. The reader doesn’t really know where the action occurs, just that the strange-looking newcomer has arrived and that his teal coloring and cucumber shape are in sharp contrast to the yellow- and red-hued animals. To avoid dialogue tags and speech bubbles, each creature’s dialogue matches its hue.

Perhaps because of the pared-down illustrations or the simple, limited text, The Suitcase read like a fable to me. Despite the age range noted, I can easily envision children in elementary school role playing this story and discussing how they would feel if a newcomer arrived; whether they would want to examine a stranger’s belongings if given the opportunity; whether they would stop a friend or relative from doing so; and what they thought of the stranger’s reaction to the animals’ behavior.

While the newcomer in The Suitcase appears to be a refugee or migrant, it’s not entirely clear from the story, and it avoids including the difficult backstory that often appears in stories about migrants and refugees. And because of this fuzziness, this story easily could be about any newcomer that looks or acts differently – anything, really, that might cause the original inhabitants to feel distrustful.

The Suitcase is a picture book that I’ve enjoyed reading multiple times, and that I highly recommend for home and classroom libraries.

A Note about Craft:

Rather than populating this story with humans, Naylor-Ballesteros creates an anthropomorphic world with a newcomer differentiated by color and shape. I think choosing animals rather than humans to tell this story adds a fable-like aspect to it. It also gives it more universal appeal, as it avoids rooting the story in a particular place or time.

Note that the title places the emphasis on the newcomer’s belongings and highlights the connections between our possessions and ourselves.

Naylor-Ballesteros utilizes a double-spread dream sequence mid-story to share the newcomer’s backstory. This flashback, while unusual in a picture book, effectively conveys to readers that the newcomer has fled his former home, creates empathy in readers, and provides the perfect set-up to the story’s climax that appears after one of the better page turns I’ve experienced in a picture book recently.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

2 responses to “PPBF – The Suitcase

  1. Very unique story — one kids would understand. I wondered if there might be a tie to a refugee. Now I’m going to have to check this book out. Thanks for sharing! Also liked your activities and questions for kids.

  2. Thanks! I hope you’re able to find it!

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