Interview with Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, THE SUITCASE
When a weary stranger arrives one day, with only a suitcase, everyone is full of questions: Why is he here? Where has he come from? And just what is in that suitcase?
Max's Boat Pick:
By Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Publisher: Clarion Books (September 29, 2020)
The Suitcase just really gets to the heart of the matter so beautifully and succinctly. Can you tell me its origin story?
CNB: "I was trying to think up story ideas for a new book and this was at the time of Trump’s election bid and the Brexit referendum. I started off with an idea about a wall that divided communities or countries and the misconceptions of what went on on the other side, but it felt a bit clichéd and didn’t really work. Doodling on this idea I drew a little character standing at the bottom of the wall and I thought this was more interesting. I wondered who they were, and what was in their bag. I felt I couldn’t credibly write a refugee’s story but I did think about how us humans could have such varied reactions to the arrival of immigrants and that’s what the story was about. We all have an instinctive fear of the unknown, but the important thing is what we do with these fears - either embrace them or reject them."
What are some other picture books you love for their exploration of empathy and/or kindness?
"The Day War Came by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb is a wonderful book inspired by the refusal of the British government to allow a group of child refugees to enter the country. Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini and Dan Williams is a very beautiful and moving poem about seeking refuge and the dangers it brings."
What do you think the best picture books do? "When you’re a child I think they take you off into their world. I think the first time this happened to me when I was little was with Roger Hargreaves’ Mr. Sneeze! Everything in Coldland where he lives is covered in snow and I totally loved this magical blank white world. Then a wizard melts the snow and everything is normal and it was such a massive disappointment to be back to reality. And of course, all kids love snow, so why did the wizard ruin everything? I really didn’t like the story because of this!
It’s harder to have that happen when you’re a grown-up but some of my favourite books can still do that - for example, Sean Tan’s The Arrival is such a perfectly realised world that you can’t help but be absorbed by it. David Almond and Levi Pinfold’s The Dam has a very evocative sense of place and time too - it’s gorgeous."
What did you love reading to your children at age 3? At age 5? "We had a really random selection of books when they were little. Reading picture books to them is what inspired me to start writing books myself. Some favourites that got read a lot were Jon Klassen’s Hat books, Carter Goodrich’s Say Hello To Zorro!, Quentin Blake’s Cockatoos, Oliver Jeffers’ The Way Back Home, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Stick Man, One Special Day by M. Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton, and Ten Tiny Tadpoles by Debbie Tarbett. I know some of the texts almost off by heart!"
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "That’s really hard to predict. Maybe the really simple, beautifully executed books have the best chance of becoming ‘classics’? Like the aforementioned I Want My Hat Back or Chris Haughton’s books, like Shh! We Have A Plan.
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Well I have to go for my personal favourite book of all time which I’ve owned and loved since I was about seven years old - Amos & Boris by William Steig. It’s the story of an adventurous mouse who is lost at sea and rescued by a whale. They become best friends and it’s just a fantastic story of friendship and love. It’s one of those that certainly captivated me and took me away to its world. I read it a lot to my children, too, so I hope it’s going to go on through the generations!"