a list of…five out-of-the-box books

There is something delightfully mysterious about boxes!  They can hold lovely surprises.  They can be turned into endless imaginative playthings.  Here are five tantalizing tales featuring …boxes!

Christina Katerina & the Box, by Patricia Lee Gauch, illustrated by Doris Burns

Christina Katerina is a winsome, imaginative, spitfire of a girl who knows a good box when she sees one.  So when her mother gets a new refrigerator, delivered in a ginormous box, Christina is elated.  Mom, on the other hand, doesn’t favor having a cardboard carton cluttering up her yard, but assuming in her tidy, grown-up way that the charm of the box will wear off in a day or two, she agrees to let Christina set it up under the apple tree.

Well.  Of course this box holds endless possibilities for one as visionary as Christina, and as the days go by, it morphs from one plaything to another.  A turreted castle.  A “Members Only” clubhouse. A speedy race car. A spacious house. No matter the disasters that befall the box, it is easily tugged, spliced, and painted into another adventure-in-waiting.

Quintessential “fun with a huge box” here that you and your children will surely relate to.  I love the real play and creativity that happens with cardboard scrap, rather than the digital brain-melt-ware increasingly popular today.  Doris Burns is one of my favorite illustrators, and…she used to live on an island…which is very impressive!  Her black line drawings absolutely percolate with personality.  This is a well-loved title in our household. 

The Box with Red Wheels, by Maud and Miska Petersham

What is that intriguing box with red wheels?  It sits under a tree in the garden, ever so silent and clever and mysterious.  A homey collection of farm animals are very curious as to what could be inside.  The gate to the garden has been left open, so off they all troop to investigate.

The cow peeks first.  Then a fat pony.  A rabbit, mother duck, and fuzzy black kitten…but none of them knows what it is that lies in that box.  The dog knows, though.  And finally we do, too:  it’s a baby!

When Mother discovers the open gate and spots the bulky crowd surrounding her baby, out she rushes to shoo them all away.  But that only makes the baby sad, so …a lovely compromise is reached.

This is an old (1949) enchanting story with a delightful element of surprise, a lovely degree of repetition that allows very young children to tell the story along with you, and even a little rebus-like page at the end so you can do the last bit together.  On top of all that, the pictures are absolutely charming!  Miska Petersham was from Budapest, Hungary, and contributes something of an Old World flavor to his illustrations.  Perfect for toddlers, this one has seen a lot of mileage in our family.

Not a Box, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis

A little bunny spies a box…which he drags home and…sits in.

Why are you sitting in a box?

It’s not a box, says the bunny.  With a turn of the page, we see that the bunny is imagining himself driving a snazzy race car…a convertible…his long ears blowing back in the breeze.

Next, the bunny stands on the box.

What are you doing on top of that box?

It’s not a box! exclaims the bunny.  And now we see that the box has turned into a lofty mountain, with the bunny standing victoriously at the tippity top, planting his flag in triumph!

And so it goes.  The bunny continues to imagine that box into all sorts of cleverness, explaining in increasing severity to his questioner that it is most definitely NOT a box!

Cunningly simple with very few words and clean line drawings.  The questioner sees things in black and white and tan; the bunny sees it all in vibrant read and sunshine yellow.  Even the covers of the book are part of the fun, made to resemble a cardboard box.  Imaginative fun for the littlest ones, toddler and up.

The Button Box, by Margarette S. Reid, illustrated by Sarah Chamberlain

Grandma has a special round tin box which this young boy loves to play with when he visits.  When he pries the top off, we can see what’s in there:  buttons!  Scads of buttons, in a multitude of colors and patterns and shapes and materials.  Can’t you just feel the tactile pleasure of grabbing a handful of those clackety things and letting them run through your fingers?

After he swirls them around on the floor, he sorts them out for us and shows us some of his favorites — the ones with flowers painted on them like Grandma’s china dishes; the sparkly ones that  look like they belonged to movie stars; the metal ones from overalls; leather ones from sweaters; and all the pearly ones that come in a rainbow of colors. 

There are games to play with buttons, and stories from Grandma about the buttons, but just sorting them and imagining where they’ve been is a good reason to get that button box our every visit.

My mother had a button box.  In our frugal household, clothes were worn until they were utterly worn-out, and then the buttons were snipped off for the button box, while the cloth was cut up for rags or perhaps patches.  When a new garment was sewed or a repair was done, chances are the buttons would come from the button box rather than the store.  I remember loving to  sort and make patterns on the floor with buttons.  Even in our high-tech age, kids and buttons make a happy combination.  Nice little quiet story.

Boxes for Katje, by Candace Fleming, pictures by Stacey Dressen-McQueen

In post-war Holland, a young girl named Katje is struggling along with her family and the others of her small town to piece life back together among the ruin and poverty that remains.

Meanwhile, in middle-America, Rosie, who’s about Katje’s age, hears of the sorrow and need in Europe, and joins thousands of American kids in packing boxes with helpful supplies, then shipping them via the Children’s Aid Society, to European children.

Which means that one lovely spring morning, Postman Kleinhoonte delivers to a surprised Katje a box from America!   From Rosie.  It holds treasures — a smooth cake of soap; a warm pair of wool socks; a chocolate bar!  And a letter from Rosie.

Katje and Rosie thus begin a correspondence, and as time goes by, Rosie enlists the help of family and friends to supply ever-bigger boxes of needed items for Katje and the others in her community, rescuing them from bitter hardships and profound hunger.  In the end, Katje finds a way to send one special box to her friend Rosie.  What could she have sent her?  You’ll have to read to find out.

Based on the true story of the author’s mother who mailed relief boxes to a Dutch family with a little girl named Katje, this is a warm story of charity and the difference that even a child can make in a broken world.  Dressen-McQueen’s artwork is bright, colorful, exuberant, and her incorporation of 1940s fashions and fabrics infuses the book with quaint authenticity.  Handwritten letters between the girls add to the charm.

Here are Amazon links for all these great books!
Christina Katerina and the Box
The Box with Red Wheels
Not a Box
The Button Box (English)
Boxes for Katje