Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Clever Cardboard Creativity

Given the opportunity children, in their infinite wisdom, inventiveness and openness, will amaze you.  It's a joy to see how they can create something marvelous from nearly nothing.  Fortunately for the world, they think outside the box.  Not only do they think outside the box, but give them a box, any size of box, and what they do with it is extraordinary.

Their first thought is not to cut up and flatten a box for recycling.  Their first thought is what can I make with this box.  To them the possibilities are limitless.  In her first book as both author and illustrator, Boxitects (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 14, 2020), Kim Smith introduces readers to Meg, a genius at using boxes to build anything her heart desires.

MEG was a boxitect.  She loved to make things out of boxes.

The size of her handiwork ranged from small to large and from low to the ground to the top of the ceiling.  Her results filled her with pride.  Her mother believed, like Meg, there wasn't anything she couldn't construct from a box.  Meg's mother decided to enroll her in Maker School.

At Maker School children crafted creations from all kinds of materials, blankets, pasta, tin and even egg cartons, but Meg was the only boxitect.  Here Meg refined her skills.  She ensured her constructions were practical, stable and lovely to look at.  It was wonderful until the new student, Simone, arrived.  Simone was a boxitect.

She was as gifted as Meg.  She believed it was her duty to point out the possible flaws in Meg's work.  In response, Meg pointed out the possible flaws in Simone's work.  Tension filled the air between these two designers and builders.

As a finale to the last day of Maker School, the Maker Match was held.  You had to work in teams.  This was an easy rule for the other students to follow.  Meg and Simone refused to work together. They divided an enormous box in half and got busy.  Boxes in the school disappeared as the two objects, separate but bound together, grew. When disaster flies in, Meg and Simone must decide what is most important to them.

To begin, Kim Smith honors the tradition of making things from cardboard boxes with the term boxitect.  (People are or will be wondering why they didn't think of that.)  In her word choices she uses alliterative descriptors,

tiny houses
tall towers and
twisty tunnels.

A cadence,

brilliant and creative,

is repeated to tie sections of the story together.  As Kim Smith builds on Meg's successes and happiness, we can feel a tension growing.  Simone's entrance increases this unease until, in a moment of humor, the tiniest of things can provide a shift in attitudes and in the results.  Here is a passage.

The blanketeers built with blankets and pillows.

The spaghetti-tects built with pasta and glue.

The bake-ologists built with cake and frosting.

But the boxitects were not building at all.

A bright, colorful palette signals a happy resolution on the front of the dust jacket featuring Meg on her cardboard castle creation with Simone "flying" her box rocket.  Both girls are pleased with their inventive structures.  Meg's pooch pal adds a charming touch to the scene.  Many elements are varnished on the front.  This image extends over the spine to the left on the back. 

There, beneath the hanging clouds, are more cardboard buildings of all shapes and sizes.  There are the backs of trees, tall towers, a barn with a chicken weathervane, a windmill and scattered construction supplies.  It is a collage of inventiveness, one layer on top of another layer.

On the book case readers are treated to a box builder's delight.  A cardboard box is the background.  Scraps of paper and labels are pasted on it along with universal symbols.  On the front, between the title and the author illustrator's name, is a hand-drawn picture.  It looks as if it was done in crayon.  It's Meg standing in front of her home with a lawn, tree, a single cloud and a sun in the upper, right-hand corner.

On the opening and closing endpapers Kim Smith has placed, in shades of brown and white, all shapes and sizes of boxes and other items made from cardboard.  On the initial title page, Meg is carrying an armload of cardboard boxes over her head.  On the formal title page, surrounded by boxes and other supplies, she is happily at work drawing plans for her next project.

Rendered digitally in Photoshop the illustrations are double-page pictures, small vignettes grouped together on a single page and full-page pictures.  Each image size serves to heighten the current mood of the narrative.  Kim Smith shifts her point of view to draw us further into her pictorial story.  Readers will enjoy the large expressive eyes, and facial features on the diverse characters.  This is a school they will want to attend.

One of my many favorite pictures is on a full-page.  Meg's mother has walked into their living room.  She is staring at Meg's latest building, open-mouthed.  It's a massive castle, nearly to the ceiling, with multiple rooms and towers and cut-outs in the walls.  A tiny heart is placed on the top of one of the turrets and a star is on another turret.  Meg is leaning over a rampart wearing a helmet and waving a sword made from cardboard.  Her canine companion is positioned slightly below her and wearing a crown.

It is guaranteed that anyone, regardless of their age, will be searching for the nearest cardboard box after reading Boxitects written and illustrated by Kim Smith.  The ingenuity of Meg and the other characters is wonderful to see honored here as well as the support of the adults.  At the close of the book four pages are dedicated to Why is cardboard so extraordinary?, Be a Boxitect! Build a Boxitect Tunnel and Build a Boxitect Castle. Necessary supplies are listed with numbered instructions and colorful explanatory visuals.  For each of the projects a Boxitect Challenge is added.  You'll want to add this title to your personal and professional collections.  This book would pair well with What To Do With A Box by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Chris Sheban.

To learn more about Kim Smith and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At her website the page for this title contains numerous interior images.  Kim Smith has accounts on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a link to some activity pages.  This taped television interview will give you more insights into Boxitects and Kim Smith.

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