A simple story with lots to unpack
The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, Nosy Crow
What's it about?
A strange creature appears one day with a dusty suitcase, looking miserable, exhausted, and scared. Some of the other animals are suspicious of him. They interrogate the newcomer and are sceptical of his answers. They're particularly curious about the contents of the stranger's suitcase, and while he sleeps, they break it open. What will happen when the newcomer awakes? Can the other animals repair more than the luggage?
What can we learn?
We shouldn't fear what we don't understand. It's important to welcome others and accept their stories, even if they don't make sense to us or match our own experiences.
What makes it stand out?
It manages to be a simple story and a sophisticated allegory all at once.
About the illustrations...
I love the illustrations and their symbolic use of colour. Sepia is used to depict the past and imply nostalgia. The different shades of each animal, almost like traffic lights, show their individual temperaments. The rabbit and the stranger are quite placid and their respective yellow and green reflect this, while the more hostile animals are orange and red. The teacup is also yellow and green, conveying the restorative calm that drinking tea can bring. It's brilliant how the new cabin combines each animal's hue as well as the blue of the sea which represents the stranger's long journey. The colour-coded dialogue makes it easier to understand who is speaking and is fun for little readers to observe and decipher too.
Why we love it...
The Suitcase has an incredibly powerful message and suggests so much, but does it remarkably subtly. We know the stranger has been through a lot. Something terrible must have happened to incite them to leave a home they clearly loved and travel to a new place alone and with hardly any possessions. What is left unsaid makes as much of an impact as what is expressed by the text.
One of the stranger's mementos is a photo himself outside his old cabin. We don't know who is behind the camera, but we see their shadow in the foreground, and the stranger waves at them affectionately. My kids (four and six) enjoy speculating about this and all the other characters too. The first time we read this story, they were so intrigued by the contents of the suitcase! I don't want to give the ending away, but my children really love it, and so do I - especially how hopeful it is.
The concept of home is such an integral part of our lives and The Suitcase explores this beautifully. It's fantastic how this book introduces young people to the experiences of refugees in a gentle, child-friendly manner. This thoughtful story also encourages children to consider how they might treat outsiders.
In a guest post on the Nosy Crow blog, author-illustrator Chris Naylor-Ballesteros writes: "I think the notion of home is so fundamentally a part of our sense of self. I didn’t set out to write a story explicitly about a refugee, but it is obviously open to that interpretation. I also like to think it could apply to any unexpected arrival that needs help and acceptance, but might disturb established relationships and situations: the child that suddenly arrives out of nowhere at your school in the middle of term, the new family in your street who are apprehensive and shy. And, of course, the person who is fleeing poverty or war and has taken a huge risk to find stability and shelter. I hoped my stranger could be seen as any of these things."
Why you need it...
This is an excellent book for fostering empathy and tolerance in children, and a wonderful, uplifting story too.
About the author-illustrator:
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is originally from Bradford and studied illustration and graphic design at Bradford College of Art. In 2000 Chris moved to France where, amongst other things, he was an English teacher before working in newspaper layout and design. When his children were small, Chris realised he loved the picture books he read to them, sometimes even more than they did – the picture book bug had truly bitten.
Chris has since written and illustrated several books and is currently thinking about the next one, probably with a cuppa in hand at home near Limoges. He likes listening to and making music, wandering around the countryside, a bit of running and riding a bike. His favourite season is autumn, and his favourite colour is green. Chris is the author several acclaimed picture books including Out of Nowhere which we love too (review coming soon), and you can see more of his work on his website.
As with all Nosy Crow picture books, this comes with a free "Stories Aloud" digital audiobook download. A huge thank you to the lovely people in Nosy Crow for sending us a gift of this poignant story. All opinions expressed are our own.