Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets Book Review

Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets by Pei-Yu Chang

Mr. Benjamin and his suitcase of secrets

Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets is a picture book about a German philosopher named Mr. Benjamin. When his country  starts punishing people for having different ideas, he goes to see a woman named Mrs. Fittko who knows many secret passageways. Mrs. Fittko works to take people who are different over the border to the neighbouring country so that they do not get punished. Although the people who are escaping are told to pack lightly, Mr. Benjamin arrives with a large suitcase and insists on carrying it over the mountains. When Mr. Benjamin is turned away at the border, he disappears along with his suitcase. Everyone wonders about the contents of the suitcase and everyone has a different theory.

Mr. Benjamin carrying his large suitcase

Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of secrets is based on the real Walter Benjamin, a German author and philosopher who attempted to escape the Nazis in Germany during the Second World War Mrs. Fittko was also a real person, an Austrian name Lisa Fittko who was estimated to have helped 80,000 people who would have been persecuted into freedom.

 

 

Soldiers and people being arrested.

This is such an important book, especially in light of current events, it’s beautifully written and illustrated, and helps to explain a very difficult subject in a way that will make children understand without making them fearful and afraid. Including the character of Mrs. Fittko shows children the importance of standing up for and helping others.

 

Mrs. Fittko walking up a gangplank.

The illustrations are wonderful, managing to be whimsical while still meshing with the story.  The layered look of the illustrations makes the book  come to life. Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets is a touching and moving story that would make a great starting point for a conversation about differences, helping others, World War Two or current events.

Mr. Benjamin's hat and wand on a blue chair.

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Board Game Review: Mermaid Island

Cover of Mermaid Island board game

I was recently playing a game of Candyland with my youngest niece, who is 5. As her older sister and I both passed her on the board, she got more and more upset, before deciding that she was all done and angrily started putting the game away. Although learning to lose gracefully is a skill that is important for children to learn, it is also important for them to have fun activities that they can complete to feel a sense of skill and accomplishment.

Game board of Mermaid Island

As I was looking for a game that would be fun for her to play, I came across Mermaid Island. Mermaid Island is a board game created by Peaceable Kingdom, a company that makes several co-operative games. The difference between co-operative games and most other board games is that in a co-operative board game like Mermaid Island, the players are all working together to win. So instead of having one winner and one or more losers at the end of the game, the game ends with everyone either succeeding together or failing together.

Three mermaid game tokens

The point of Mermaid Island is to get three mermaids to the island before the Sea Witch gets there. There are 3 star wands that players can use to move the Sea Witch back a space, but careful- if the Sea Witch gets to the star wands first they can’t be used. Although players take turn spinning the spinner to see how many spaces they can move, they decide together when to see the star wands and can decide together which mermaid to move on each turn.

Sea Witch game tokenIt took my niece a couple of minutes to get used to the idea that we were not competing against each other, but one she did she really enjoyed playing together- none of the upset and stress of competition.

I really enjoyed this game, as an adult it can be hard to find games that kids like but that don’t bore adults to tears (I’m looking at you, Candy Land!). I enjoyed that I did not have to try not to win, in order to keep my niece happy and interested in the game. One of my favourite things about this game is that the instructions were printed on the inside of the lid. Why doesn’t every board game company do this?!? Goodbye to the frustration of lost instructions.

If you’re looking for a fun and non mind numbing game to play with kids 5 and up I highly recommend checking out Mermaid Island, perfectly themed for some summer fun!

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The Year of the Garden Book Review

The Year of the Garden book cover

The Year of the Garden is written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Patrice Barton. The Year of the Garden follows Anna as she moves into a new house, makes a new friend and creates a garden over the course of a year. Inspired by reading the Secret Garden, Anna imagines creating a wonderful garden.

Cheng’s characters are very well written, detailed and interesting enough to make you want to know more about them. I like that the group of characters is multi-generational and diverse. Anna is Chinese-American and her heritage is shown through language, food and traditions shown in the book.

This is a great beginner chapter book with easy to follow writing that will still keep kid’s interest. It would also be a great book to read for back to school, as it deals with making new friends and fitting in. The Year of the Garden is a prequel to The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Abigail Halpin, which I’m going to have to add to my TBR list!

Book News of the Week July 23-29 2017

The hidden (and not-so-hidden) racism in children’s books. Via Time.com

Children’s books missed these immigrant stories. So students wrote them. Via The New York Times.

Stoney Creek native pens children’s book. Via Hamilton News. A local author!

Next from the novelist Junot Díaz? A picture book. Via The New York Times. This is going on my TBR list.

The most anticipated children’s and YA books of Fall 2017. Via Publishers Weekly. Books to watch out for.

 

Book News of the Week July 16-22 2017

Sweden removes Pippi Longstocking from libraries over “racist” term. Via The Daily Caller. While I understand language we no longer being used being kept in books to show what life was like at that point, i.e The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I think that in this case it is good that they are updating the books.

Acclaimed Iranian artist refused visa to attend Edinburgh book festival. Via The Guardian.

Aaron Blabey’s children’s book The Bad Guys will be turned into a Hollywood film. Via NT News.

EasyJet to put free classic children’s books on flights in bid to get more kids reading. Via evening Standard. I absolutely love this idea. While children get more and more screen time today, especially on flights or other situations where their parents are trying to keep them occupied and quiet, it’s wonderful to provide another option. The more children see reading presented as an option, the more they will choose to read.

Why people are excited about the two new Harry Potter books. Via The Telegraph. 

Margaret and the Moon: new kids’ book profiles pioneering Apollo programmer. Via Space.com. “I hope they’ll find a strong female role model in Margaret Hamilton: someone determined to overcome unfair conditions and do good in the world”.

Through the Gate Book Review

Cover of Through the Gate children's book by Sally FawcettThrough the Gate by Sally Fawcett is the story of a girl who moves to a new house, and gradually finds a home. I love the simple prose and the pattern it follows, repeating without being boring. The illustrations use the contrast between the grey scale and colour beautifully, and it really adds to the story, showing the difference between what the character feels about her new house versus how she feels about the other houses and things she passes on her way to school.

This book is a great story to read and re-read, children can point out the differences in each scene as the house changes bit by bit. A wonderful story for children who have recently moved or will soon move, or children that are going through any kind of changes in their life. it would make a good story to start reading before back to school, as a child starts going to school for the first time or as they go through the changing of classrooms and teachers when entering a new grade.