Ready to read more? Here's a list with some more interesting and helpful ressources on migration suitable for children:
Forced to Flee: Refugee children drawing on their experiences
This book prioritizes self-representation through drawings made by children from various communities of their experiences with forced migration
Bestimmt wird alles gut by Kirsten Boie | Mahmoud Hassanein | Jan Birck
To complement less context-specific narratives like The Suitcase, we have included this bilingual (German-Arabic) title to offer an insight on the contemporary experiences of forced migration from Syria to Germany.
Coloring without Borders
This bilingual (Spanish-English) interactive resource can be used to engage children on the themes of migration from a young age and prioritizes the experiences of children separated their families at the border between Mexico and the U.S.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
Directed towards a young adult audience, both of these titles deal with the topic of identity and multiple belongings in the geographic context of the U.S. and Mexico.
Because of our interest in the way his book mediates themes of forced migration and belonging, we reached out to the author/illustrator with a few questions, which he kindly answered for us. Check out the responses below!
What was your inspiration behind writing the book?
I was trying to follow-up my previous two books on a theme of home or shelter but in keeping with the humorous mood of those books. No story ideas seemed to work. This was the period around the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election and I was just very down about by the way that mainstream politics seemed to be (and still is) embracing the rejection of other cultures, countries and people. So I was stuck but one day doodled a small character stood at the foot of a big wall (for a failed wall story) and carrying a rucksack, and I wondered what this character was doing there, where it’d come from, where it was going and of course, what was in its bag.
When writing and illustrating The Suitcase, did you have a specific audience in mind? Whose perspectives does it reflect?
I didn’t think I could write with any authority about the stranger’s past or journey but I could more easily put myself in the shoes of those that confront the stranger. I wanted to reflect the range of emotions we have in wealthy, relatively comfortable counties to people arriving from elsewhere with nothing, in desperation and needing help. Despite all being human beings with human brains and human thoughts, some people are incredibly hostile and cynical and then there are those that feel genuine pain for others’ hardships and really want to help. I think it’s instinctive to fear or be suspicious of things that are unexpected or unknown and the important thing is to accept those feelings exist but reject them instead of embracing them.
You have said that “picture books [are] for grownups too”. Do you distinguish between audiences of ‘adults’ and ‘children’ and if so, in what ways?
In my books I hope not. Some of them are intended to be funny and have elements of slapstick humour but I really hope there’s enough there to also raise a smile (and even a laugh) for adults. I suppose a good story should have enough in it for everyone at any age. And by that I don’t mean the inclusion of adult ‘in-jokes’ intended to go over the heads of children but give the grown-ups a laugh. I don’t like it when that happens. I think there is certainly a genre of picture books with grown-up themes that younger children might find a little bit underwhelming or uneventful. I really love lots of these books but can see that they’re probably made for people like me more than for children. I hope there isn’t a stigma about adults reading picture books for themselves. There shouldn’t be.
In how far does the photograph represent a story within the larger narrative? What about the dream of the sleeping stranger?
The photo in the suitcase? Well there’s a fairly significant hidden element in that, albeit hiding in plain sight. Only one person has ever instantly spotted it and that was a five/six year old child at a school visit! I hope there might be the opportunity to revisit the Stranger’s life and what or who was in it. There’s another story in that … I was vague about the stranger’s previous life and the journey he made because they were largely irrelevant to the story of this book and would have been distractions. So the stranger’s dream was a device to show quickly that the journey he’d made was hard and perilous and not some sort of fun adventure.
Is there a reason for having nameless characters?
In such a simple story where every character appears on every page, names would be redundant and a bit of a distraction. No one refers to anyone else in a way that you’d need to specify who they’re talking about. And fictional names are a nightmare to think of, if pushed I’d have called them Fox, Bird and Rabbit for simplicity!
Is there any significance behind the choice of the fox, bird and rabbit as other characters?
Well there are some clichés that I relied upon for quickly establishing character traits, eg. foxes are sly and a bit naughty, small birds follow the flock, are twittery and perhaps gossipy. Hopefully the clichés are overturned at the end!
Does language make a difference in the way a book or story is perceived? Do you think the reception of the German and English versions of this book differ?
I’m not sure about language but think that culture and the social or political climate we’re surrounded by makes a difference to how certain ideas are received and processed. Then again, empathy is a universal trait. We all have it to different degrees and I’d hope that the fundamental theme of kindness to strangers is accepted just as easily anywhere in the world.
The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is one example of how the topics of forced migration, belonging, and home can be mediated via children’s literature. The story reflects multiple perspectives and invites the reader/listener to reflect on their own relationship to these themes. Consider how the text visualizes experiences of migration and arrival into a new community. How does the book show the complexities of these processes? In what ways does the book resonate with your own experiences with these themes?
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros reads The Suitcase
If the reading has made you curious, feel free to have a look at these behind-the-scenes videos and interviews to find out more about the author’s inspiration behind the story and the characters.
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros drawing characters from The Suitcase
Blog Post by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros about The Suitcase
Interview with Chris Naylor-Ballesteros about The Suitcase
Themes such as forced migration are very often discussed from an adult-centered perspective, yet these topics also directly and indirectly affect children and young adults. In light of this incomplete discourse, this page aims to include children in conversations surrounding migration and acknowledge how they are affected by experiences of flight, migration, and belonging in order to add to the discussion the #HT94 project opens.
In this section of the blog, you can find a recorded reading of the children’s book The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros in English, which deals with conceptions of home, forced migration, and community response. In addition, we have a written Q&A with the author Chris Naylor-Ballesteros and a list-in-progress of further resources to engage with these topics. We invite you to share any suggestions or contributions with us via email to help round out our list. Please have a look!
In the course of the "Hostile Terrains" seminar at University Münster, the project group #Children'sPerspective addresses migration from a focus centered on kids.