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