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Amira’s Suitcase

By Vikki Conley

Illustrated by Nicky Johnston 

Reviewed by Sandy Driessens

How endearing is the cover of this book? The luggage label, stains, stickers and earthy colours draw you to this little girl with the hopeful look on her face.

“It was growing in the corner of a suitcase when Amira first saw it.  ‘I won’t hurt you,’ she said.”

This is the story of Amira, who is also growing, in what appears to be a refugee camp. She discovers a tiny plant sprouting in a suitcase and it awakens in her a nurturing instinct. She provides the necessities and encouragement to help her new ‘friend’ thrive. With the growth of her plant, her confidence also flourishes and she befriends two other children, Nala and Tien. who plant their own seeds in Amira’s suitcase. Together, their little plants and their friendship blossoms.

Vikki Conley has written a heart-warming story using text filled with metaphors for nurturing and growth. She makes the little plant a character, who personifies Amira, revealing her needs and dreams.  Amira’s voice is gentle and hopeful. The feeling of tingling and warmth, she describes when she connects with the other children, travels all the way to the readers toes too.

The story could be set in any community, but is placed in context with Nikky Johnston’s lovely illustrations.

The cover and stained, suitcase lining endpapers transport you inside Amira’s suitcase. Created with pencil, pen and watercolours, the washes place you in a dry and dusty refugee camp. Johnston has also been metaphorical in her illustration, with the rusty corrugated iron, reflecting the pattern inside Amira’s suitcase. The walls of the suitcase represent the boundaries of her community. The characters, including the plants and animals, add colour to this very simple, uncluttered world.  The children’s facial expressions and body language create a gentle mage of kindness, hope and friendship. The font size and placement of text make it perfect for reading out loud.

I enjoyed this book much more than I anticipated. I expected it to be tinged with sadness, and it was a little, but actually, it was uplifting and expressed the joy and hope children can experience in any situation.

A story to be read out loud, shared often and discussed, this is a lovely journey for children about adversity, resilience, diversity and friendship.

Teacher’s Notes
New Frontier Publishing 2021   
1942 Amsterdam Ave NY (212) 862-3680

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