Not a Box
Written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis
32 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0061123221
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
Brimming with imagination and as close as you can get to the fun of playing with an empty box yourself without actually having one at hand, Antoinette Portis’ Not a Box will resonate with both parents and children.
Portis wastes no time in getting into her story. The covers of the book are brown paper, with a little red "this end up" stamped on the back, just like a real cardboard box. From the title page where a passing bunny spies an ordinary cardboard box to the inside pages across which the rabbit drags the box, the line drawings are simple yet expressive.
The unseen, unnamed, and unidentified questioner asks the bunny on the first page, "Why are you sitting in a box?" Meanwhile, the bunny sits in the cardboard box. Turn the page, and the reply is, "It’s not a box," as the line-drawn scene changes to reflect the young one’s imaginative play, in which the bunny dons a racing glasses and the zooming race car speeds away.
And so continues the book, each page a variation on this theme as the bunny stands on the box, hides in the box, stands in the box, and peeks out of the box. Red line drawings overlay the bunny in the box to show that it really isn’t a box but a burning building, a hot air balloon, robot, spaceship, and more. Portis is pitch-perfect with her question/answer that mimics the style of adult questions and children’s answers. Kids will feel validated after reading this book, and parents may be more likely to take that extra second to realize that hey, it’s not a box after all, the next time their child is playing pretend. Either way, both parents and children will be inspired to look beyond the mundane and the every day and use their imaginations after enjoying Not a Box together.
Antoinette Portis holds an art degree from UCLA; she is a former creative director in Disney Consumer Products. Her children’s book has won numerous awards; it’s been named an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book, as well as one of New York Public Library’s "One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing". And it’s easy to see why. The high-contrast of the black and white illustrations of the bunny in the box versus the bright red and yellow answer pages highlight the differing perspectives. The little bunny’s expressive ears tell so much of the story; these clear illustrations mean that children who can’t read yet will be able to the book all by themselves, too.
Not a Box presents a good opportunity for discussion, imagination, and interaction. Children and parents can guess what the bunny is pretending to be or do before turning the page. And perhaps most creatively of all, Not a Box makes for a good jumping off point, in that kids can be inspired to look at their own cardboard box and see more than a box. Even better, parents and kids can play "let’s pretend" together.