April 6, 2012
Not a Box
By Antoinette Portis; illus. by author
2-4 Preschool Primary Harper Collins 32 pp.
978-0061123221 Hardcover $14.99
Not a Box, with it's brown paper cover and simple line art, is one of the most inventive picture books to be published in recent years, which, in today's market, is saying quite a lot. There's a simple reason for this. Not a Box celebrates the inventiveness of a child's mind in concrete, relatable terms as the bunny-protagonist repeatedly fields the very adult question: "Why are you sitting, (standing), (squirting), (wearing) a box?"
The bunny's answer is, invariably, "It's not a box!", a claim that is backed up with each page turn when the box is revealed to be a mountain, a race car, a burning building and a number of other exciting not-a-box things. Portis highlights the imaginative component by placing the bunny and the box (both of which are drawn in what looks like black marker or crayon) on a plain white background for the "reality" pages, and then overlaying the black and white with bright red and yellow on the "imagination" pages that reveal the box's true identity in the bunny's mind.
The only aspect one must consider before reading Not a Box to toddlers is that before the age of 3, most children perceive things very literally. They may not see a box, but rather a simple square, or they may be unable to make the leap from "box" to "hot air balloon." That said, Not a Box still offers toddlers a great deal of potential fun as the illustrations are bright and simple and perfect for naming games and parent-child interactivity. However, for preschoolers and children over 3, Not a Box is nothing but fantastic as most will jump right into the bunny's game precisely because it so mirrors the imaginative play that children that age partake of in their own lives. The text is wonderful for beginning readers as it's packed with simple sights words and pictorial context, and the story itself is empowering as the bunny (presumably a child stand-in) repeatedly defends its vision of the box to the insistent adult "questioner".
Not a Box, for which Portis won the Caldecott Honor in 2006, is a special book, one that is well-suited for big story times and intimate readings at home and one that is well deserving of the attention and honors it has received.