How to Put a Whale in a Suitcase

The cover of Spanish artist Guridi’s simple-seeming but profoundly philosophical work encapsulates how a small problem can be metaphor for a very big theme. An image of a small child (boy?) with a little suitcase by his side, holding a very large red whale over his head illustrates the quandary addressed in the title. 

The faceless boy has decided to go on a very long journey, taking with him his whale, the thing he loves most. But how to fit the whale into his small suitcase is his dilemma as suitcases for whales don’t exist. Ingenuity comes to his rescue, however, as he compresses an enormous paper image of the whale into many folds before slipping it into his case.

Plain white backgrounds and sparse text focus the reader on the boy’s dilemma. We know nothing of him, or where he might be going with his whale stuffed into his little suitcase, until the final opening reveals something of what this is about. He joins a group of other people, and observing them from their backs we see they are all sizes and probably ages. All we are told is that they are without direction and all have to leave.

Guridi’s control over images that look so simple and words that say little yet convey so much about one of the twenty-first century’s most challenging situations is masterly. Young children who might be aware of without fully understanding the crisis around displaced peoples could find relevant concepts here that could help them to grapple with something that even defies understanding on the part of many adults.