Many children will be starting school in the new year – a time of anticipation and excitement and a little angst. The summer before my eldest child started school he caught whooping cough which ended all plans of swimming lessons, fun outings and time with friends. I do remember his anticipation of finally going to big school. He was five and a half and more than a little ready.
I remember trying to prepare him for his first day at school and buying him a special lunch box. I told him there would be “play lunch” and then “lunch” and there was special food for each. I remember picking him up after his first day, wishing I could have been a fly on the wall to see what he had done. I remember him telling me that there had not been any “play lunch” time, so he had not eaten the special snack I had put in his lunch box and he had waited all day for the magic “play lunch” moment – which never came. They had had “little lunch” and he had sat watching the other children eat their little lunch, but alas, his lunch box contained no little lunch. I made sure that he had “little lunch” in his box the next day.
He then told me that “he had not learnt to read”, that he had done some playing and that that was all he would say about school. I learnt that there were not many questions he was prepared to answer and that he usually came home tired, a little grumpy and unenthusiastic about any after school plans that did not involve going home.
I am sure that he thought his lunch box was “the terrible lunch box”, I don’t remember. However, I am sure there were moments as he adjusted to the new routines of school that were terribly bad and I wasn’t there to rescue him or make things better. A new book has recently been published about a little girl who is about to start school and it is written by an old friend of mine who I knew when she was a uni student. It is called “The Terrible Suitcase“. It is about a little girl who gets given a “terrible suitcase” for her going-to-school present instead of the red backpack with yellow rockets and a silver zipper. And she was mad. Very mad.
It is a delightful story about how this little girl goes to school with the suitcase she doesn’t want – no her mother didn’t buy a new one, even after her friend Howard’s Mum bought the exact red backpack that she wanted – ever so desperately. This little girl’s anger leads to some terrible behaviour with consequences from her mother – no custard for dinner, and still the mother does not intervene or try to make things better.
I love this mother. The first day looms and she turns up at school with her terrible suitcase and things don’t improve. By the afternoon, she disappears into the imagination corner, climbs into her cardboard box to feel sorry for herself in peace. I love this little girl’s teacher who tells her she can stay in there “as long as she likes”. This is where the terrible suitcase makes its peace with its new owner and the terrible suitcase becomes terribly magnificent – not only in her eyes, but in the eyes of her friends. The children take part in an imaginary adventure in which the terrible suitcase plays a star role.
This book would make a wonderful “going to school” present for any child about to start school. Starting school is one of the many first steps a child takes to independence and having to navigate the joys and disappointments in life on their own. Parents need to let their children face disappointments and anger and deal with it.
This terrible red suitcase provided this little girl with an object that enabled her imagination and the imaginations of her friends to kick in and provide enjoyment and adventure. The illustrations by Freya Blackwood are delightful. If you are familiar with Maudie Bear, you will recognise her drawings – they capture this little girl and the terrible suitcase perfectly.
I am so proud of my friend, and a little envious. Not only has she now written an enjoyable book, that has won the CBC Early Childhood Award for 2013, but it is a helpful reminder to all Mums and Dads that our children do not need rescuing from their disappointments or their anger.