Cardboard by Doug TenNapel. August 2012. 9780545418720. Gr. 6-8. (Reviewed from ARC)
One of my favorite books as a kid started with a cardboard box. I am thrilled that Christina Katerina and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch, first published in 1971, is back in print as of April 2012! I love that I can now share this tribute to imaginative play and creativity with my young daughter. I think she will get a kick out of Christina Katerina, the original Fancy Nancy if there ever was one! Cardboard by Doug TenNapel is about as far from “fancy” as you can get, but it was definitely my childhood love for Christina Katerina and her imagination that drew me to it. Cardboard is for the kids who have outgrown playing with cardboard boxes but still think about the possibilities.
This graphic novel begins with a man looking for work. Young readers might not immediately empathize with the man’s situation, but when he meets a mysterious man named Gideon selling cheap toys, things start to get interesting. Gideon sells him a cardboard box for only $0.78 with a promise of a father-son adventure. The only catch is that any unused cardboard must be returned and there is no more available—no matter what. It seems weird, but whatever, right?
Cam doesn’t let the fact that all he gets for his birthday is an empty box get him down. He’s excited to get to work on a project with his dad. Together, they work all night to make a boxer out of the cardboard. But after they fall asleep, their cardboard man comes alive. Maybe it’s magic. Maybe it’s advanced alien technology. Who knows for sure? All Cam knows is that he has a new friend, and more cardboard to make whatever he wants. Of course he doesn’t return what he hasn’t used, and of course that goes horribly wrong when it falls into the hands of the neighborhood bully, who can’t control what he creates from the cardboard.
This is a fantastic adventure that will surely appeal to Doug TenNapel’s many young fans, and the sympathetic adult character may draw in parent readers as well. While my four-year-old daughter and I will stick to bonding over Christina Katerina, middle school boys and their dads just might find Cardboard‘s action-packed story that culminates in Cam and his father saving the day is a favorite they can share.