Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The terrible suitcase by Emma Allen illustrated by Freya Blackwood

It is important to begin looking at this book, The Terrible Suitcase, with a close look at the end papers which show a small red suitcase hurtling among the planets. The implication here is that this suitcase has arrived from outer space and perhaps this is confirmed when we see, on the title page, the small red suitcase is now wedged between some old boxes and picture frames perhaps in an attic.

The opening lines of this book establish the character of our un-named narrator.  She is M.A.D. mad! because instead of a wonderful new backpack for her going to school present she has been given a terrible suitcase.  Howard has a rocket backpack which makes her retaliate by throwing playdough and wrecking their game. When she arrives at school for her first day our grumpy girl compares her suitcase with all the wonderful backpacks she sees outside the school or preschool and her displeasure increases.

There are hints all through this book that our little protagonist is a space fan.  She makes a playdough planet which smashes Howard's matchstick sculpture of an intergalactic spacecraft, she chews her space station hologram sticker and can't swap it for one with a photo of Halley's comet and inside her suitcase she has a supply of spacefood sticks. (Are these still available at the supermarket they were popular when I was a child a long time ago?).

The classroom has an imagination corner with a large fridge sized cardboard box which for our narrator makes the perfect rocket and so she climbs inside.  A short time later Millie crawls in and magically the suitcase becomes the centre of their imaginative play becoming a toolkit to repair the rocket and a computer so they can plot their journey to earth.  Our little hero goes to bed that night looking forward to a day of fun with her friends and her suitcase.

I went to school in the age before backpacks were invented and even now I still marvel at all the designs and the ways children add embellishments such as little toys to personalize their bags.  In my school the majority of children have the official green school back pack.  I actually have the suitcase used by my Grandfather when he went to school.  It is so large and must have been very heavy to carry up the hill each day to school.

When we read The Terrible Suitcase in our library next term we will also explore Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes which is also about fitting in at school and acceptance by the peer group and Annabel swift Kindergartener by Amy Schwartz , Jessica's Box by Peter Carnavas and Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes. We will also explore the fourteen books in our library illustrated by Freya Blackwood many of which have been short listed and award winners in past years.  You can see some images from The Terrible Suitcase on the illustrator's blog.

On final thought.  Perhaps the suitcase did not come from space instead it is the way you can travel there.  Here is a set of teacher notes.  This book is another title which has been short listed for the CBCA Awards.

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