The Big Box

The Big Box

4.2 5
by Toni Morrison, Giselle Potter, Slade Morrison

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In her first illustrated book for children, the Pulitzer Prizeñwinning author Toni Morrison introduces three feisty children who show grown-ups what it really means to be a kid.


In her first illustrated book for children, the Pulitzer Prizeñwinning author Toni Morrison introduces three feisty children who show grown-ups what it really means to be a kid.

Editorial Reviews

Horn Book
The Morrisons' long poem about the need to let children be "free" relies on a heavy-handed irony ("So they gave little Patty an understanding hug / And put her in a big brown box. / It has carpets and curtains and bean bag chairs / But the door has three big locks") that is predictably countered by a clich'd voice of childhood wisdom ("I know you are smart and I know that you think / You are doing what is best for me. / But if freedom is handled just your way / Then it's not my freedom or free.") This scenario is repeated for a number of children (and stanzas), and the lack of either thematic or narrative development makes the book tedious. Potter's pictures are big and nice, but they just don't have a lot of work to do beyond showing glum-eyed children in locked rooms (oddly, the locks are on the inside, subverting the entire thrust of the text), or happy-faced children gamboling in nature. Kids faced with reading this book might be well advised to take its advice and go out and play instead. r.s.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nobel laureate Morrison's debut book for children unfortunately shows little of the childlike perspective that so masterfully informs The Bluest Eye. This enigmatic tale, written in verse, is inspired by a story made up by Morrison's then nine-year-old son. The opening scene depicts two girls and a boy who live in a "big brown box" with a door that has "three big locks." The trio have been sent there by adults who think they "can't handle their freedom." Suburban Patty has "too much fun in school all day" ("When we pledged to the flag, she'd spoil it"); urban Mickey writes his name on mailbox lids and plays handball next to a sign that forbids the game; and country girl Liza Sue lets the chickens keep their eggs and feeds honey to the bees. Each child, when told that he or she has overstepped the bounds, counters with the identical unchildlike response: "I know you are smart and I know that you think/ You're doing what is best for me./ But if freedom is handled just your way/ Then it's not my freedom or free." The parents, never visible visiting the box, nonetheless leave behind plenty of parting gifts (e.g., "Blimpies and Frisbees... and Matchbox cars that go"). In the final scene, the children, inexplicably, easily clamber over the sides of the big brown box to freedom. Potter's (Gabriella's Song) handsome illustrations in a postmodern folk-art style possess an austere simplicity, effectively marking the contrast to the adults' commercial bribes littering the floor. But ultimately the tale is mundane; the social commentary on childhood, freedom and the tendency of parents to give children things instead of time and attention seems aimed more at adult readers than children. Ages 8-up. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
In what PW called "a social commentary on childhood," two girls and a boy live in a "big brown box" with a door that has "three big locks"; they have been sent there by adults who think they "can't handle their freedom." Ages 8-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
When I began Toni Morrison's The Big Box, I dis not come with an open mind; on the book jacket, she tells how she took a story devised by her son Slade who "let his mother impose the rhyme." Generally, when new writers use rhyme, the work suffers. This is not true in Morrison's case and though the book is really for adults, it works until the end. The heroes of the story are four unique children who are imprisoned in a large box because they trouble adults. At the story's end, they spring from this box without having taken any action, and there's no explanation of how the release occurred. The only explanation is one of my Forbidden Four...deus ex machina. 1999, Hyperion, Ages 9 to 12, $19.99. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Morrison sets to rhyme a story her son created when he was nine-years-old. When three children make their parents, neighbors, or teachers nervous-Patty talks in the library, Mickey plays handball where he shouldn't, and Liza Sue lets the chickens on her farm keep their eggs-the adults decide that the youngsters can't handle their freedom and so choose to have them confined. A literal reading of the text says that they put them in a big box, but some will infer that they were institutionalized. Their parents visit on Wednesday nights and provide plenty of material gifts, but "the door only opens one way." Potter's moody, quirky, somber-colored illustrations, similar to those she created for Candace Fleming's Gabriella's Song (Atheneum, 1997), interpret the story quite literally, picturing nearly every object mentioned in the text, leaving little to readers' imaginations. The box varies between a furnished room with the three locks on the door referred to in the text, to the cardboard box on the cover, from which, at the end of the story, the three break free to recapture their personal freedom. This is a book that will have a hard time finding an audience: it looks like a picture book for younger children, yet the theme and images require some sophistication and a desire to explore life's boundaries. What children of any age will make of parents who decided to lock up their own children for relatively minor infractions remains to be seen.-Ellen Fader, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Morrison and her son have created a rhymed parable—clearly addressing adults—about three children who are firmly, lovingly locked into a room-sized box because they "can't handle their freedom." Patty, Mickey, and Liza Sue don't follow all the rules, e.g., at school, Patty "ran through the halls and wouldn't play with dolls/And when we pledged to the flag she'd spoil it." Their teachers, parents, and neighbors nervously put them away, not listening to their repeated protestation: " `I know that you think/You're doing what is best for me./But if freedom is handled just your way/Then it's not my freedom or free.'Ê" Potter places sad children and grave adults into fresh compositions, done in restrained colors, scattered with the small animals and items mentioned in the text. The Morrisons end with a challenge—"Who says they can't handle their freedom?"—that is weakened by an illustration that, in showing the children effortlessly pushing down the box's walls, misses the point. Nonetheless, it's a valid message, strongly made, and a promising children's book debut for the authors. (Picture book. 8+)

Product Details

Publication date:
Jump at the Sun Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
11.25(w) x 11.25(h) x 0.25(d)
Age Range:
8 - 11 Years

Meet the Author

A recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize (1988), the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993), and numerous other honors and awards, Toni Morrison is the bestselling author of the novels Beloved, Sula, Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye. One of America's most gifted storytellers, her fiction is characterized by epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Inspired by the true story of a runaway slave, her book Beloved was adapted for film in 1998.

Brief Biography

Princeton, New Jersey, and Manhattan
Date of Birth:
February 18, 1931
Place of Birth:
Lorain, Ohio
Howard University, B.A. in English, 1953; Cornell, M.A., 1955

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Big Box 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wish every educator and every parent struggling to keep or get their children in an inclusive educational setting would read this book. The Big Box, to me, is the same thing as the self-contained classroom, that some think is 'best' for my daughter, and that I have to fight to keep her out of. We are a diverse culture in which EVERYONE belongs...we cannot just shut those away who move through life differently than what society defines as the 'norm'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes, this book is more for adults to read because it tells how controlling that they can be sometimes. This book is great for kids because it shows them an appreation for their freedoms and what they enjoy. This could lead into a discussion on the war efforts and what freedom means to them. I'm not saying get into a great big debate on the matter, but enough to get them started thinking about what's happening in the story and how it can relate to their lives. It is also a great multicultural book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and have read it to my 7 year old step daughter over and over again. It gives way to conversation about how un accepting the world can be of people. However, it illustrates the ability to overcome that obstacle. It also shows that there is need to be tolerant and understanding with people who feel that others should conform to values/rules viewed as most important in their world. If you want to raise a child that has their own views on life, can see beyond initial perceptions and is non-conformist in nature, then reading The Big Box with your child is great way to initiate conversation about such adult issues.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want your child to have nighmares and feel like they are going to be disowned, this is the book to read. While the lyrical quality of this book sucks you in, don't be fooled. This book is poor at best and dangerous at worst. Many people may be impressed by the name of the author and the premise of the book to their detriment. We need to discuss tolerance and acceptance with children, but this book is not the vehicle to this dialogue.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I consider myself and educator and an involved parent. I was shocked by the negative images and concepts in this book. None of my students will hear this book. Children need positive encouragement. 'Praise the Children and They Will Blossom' Scare them and they won't trust.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. It was prettty cool. I liked the ryhming and the pictures were drawn very eloquently. iT WAS JUST PRETTY GOOD OVERALL.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really don't think this book was written for children. I feel that Ms.Morrison tried too hard with this one. The point should be to reach children. I think Ms. Morrison was very unfair in her portrayal of the adults in this book. I feel that this story lacks balance!!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Kids of all ages LOVE the rhyming scheme and parents will love the message behind it... an inspired and eloquent book... Toni Morrison is a genius.