Amira's suitcase by Vikki Conley. Illus. by Nicky Johnston

cover image

A poignant story of finding friendship in the least friendly of places, new arrival Amira is looking for a place to hide, but finds instead a small seedling, growing in the corner of one of the discarded suitcases. Lovingly she cares for he seedling, nurturing it with water from her cupped hands, talking to it, moving the suitcase to garner some sunlight. She dreams of the pear tree back home, a tree from which she could pick beautiful fruit. She attracts the attention of another child in the mean surroundings, Nala, and she brings another seed for the suitcase, so the first seed is not lonely. That night Amira dreams of her mother's mint tea. The next day Tien gives her more seeds to plant and the three watch the seedlings grow, together. 

By now the seedlings have grown just like their friendship, each nurturing the other in this inhospitable place. And they watch the fluttering leaves pointing up and imaginatively they climb the tree ready to reach the sun and all that it promises.

Nicky Johnston's pencil and watercolour images warm each page with their delicate touch, the young girl Amira, wistful and yet hopeful, as her parents unpack their meagre belongings. When she finds something to hang on to, life becomes more bearable within the very bleak environment. Finding other children gives her hope, and the images of the children change, smiles added to their faces. They are now in a friendship group, doing things together, and as the seedling grows in the last few pages so too does their hope and the readers' hope for their futures grows. And I love the end papers, reprising the inside of an old suitcase, stained and worn, but one that harbours the seedling, offering new life.

A story the will encourage thought and empathy, as readers take in the child's surroundings, linking it with places they have heard about, wondering at her situation, so unlike their own.

The pared back text offers a look at children's lives outside their own, the illustrations portraying the stark realities of life for many children around the world.

The end offers hope, the text paralleling the illustrations in which the sun offers guidance to a better life.

Themes: Refugees, Refugee camps, Friendship, Empathy, Hope, Mental health.

Fran Knight