The Secret Box


Times change.
Cities may grow large.
Summers may come and go.
And people might grow old,
but the one thing that always
remains the same is the desire for

Barbara Lehman takes readers on a ...

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Times change.
Cities may grow large.
Summers may come and go.
And people might grow old,
but the one thing that always
remains the same is the desire for

Barbara Lehman takes readers on a timeless trip to a world of secret messages left in secret boxes hidden in secret places. 

You’ll never know what you’ll find when you look inside!

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As in her previous books, Lehman (The Red Book) develops the theme of children who stumble on unseen worlds. Here, three boys discover a box in the top floor of their urban boarding school that holds decades-old sepia photographs of a schoolboy, a postcard, and a map leading to a location on the coast. Picking out features of the old landscape amid the built-up, modern city around them, the boys make their way to a boardwalk amusement park, where they find the schoolboy of the photograph with a crowd of children who presumably have made the same trip. In closing, a pair of schoolchildren from an even more recent past find the box and set off for Seahorse Pier; Lehman implies that this cycle continues indefinitely, hall-of-mirrors style. Her tidily drafted watercolor-and-ink spreads make it easy to follow the action despite the mind-bending propositions it points toward; the idea that the children somehow cheat death is simultaneously eerie and liberating, as are the images of layers of earlier cities entwined with the present. A provocative example of the complexity that can be conveyed using only pictures. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Lehman takes readers on another of her provocative wordless adventures. The cover looks like the box of salt-water taffy of the title; the jacket has a string tied around the box with a label and other related objects. More appear on the end pages. On the title page a young boy, dressed in clothing of years ago, is closing the box that says "Seahorse Pier Saltwater Taffy;" the label is nearby. We next see him through a circle as he puts the box under a floorboard. The circle is a window we spot on the facing page in a house. On the next double page, that house is out amid fields. Youngsters dressed like the boy are exercising in the yard outside. On succeeding pages we see the city encroaching on the house as the children change as well. Then three children find the hidden box. Inside, among other objects, are photos of long ago, a picture of the Seahorse Pier, and a map. The clever children figure out how to get to the pier. What happens there is a puzzling fantasy with a surprise ending that brings the story full circle. The single and double page visuals are produced in an informative, clean-cut style using black ink outlines plus gouache and watercolors. But to understand the story, readers must pause at times to inspect the changing details. The crowds and games on the pier are particularly attractive. To quote the jacket/cover: "Escape the Humdrum with Seahorse Saltwater Taffy for a taste of the Seaside—any time!" Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—Lehman presents the perfect progression of images to relate an enchanting adventure. Long ago, a boy placed a box in the floorboards of an attic in a tall, yellow military school building. Page turns show the passage of time as the area surrounding the building changes from farmland to a sprawling cityscape. Through the years, the building remains a dormitory inhabited by children. In the present day, three boys discover the box. Inside are ticket stubs, a postcard, photos, and a map that leads the way to Seahorse Pier, a colorful amusement park by the sea. Though confronted by obstacles in the crumbling urban landscape, the boys find their way to the pier, which has remained unchanged. There they discover all the children who had the same adventure before them. Lehman's muted watercolors, outlined in black, direct the eye to the most important visual information. Progressive images are cleverly connected through the tiniest of details, such as the curve of a window in the corner of a frame that matches a round window in the attic of the school building. Though the faces of the children are no more than eyes, nose and a mouth, Lehman nonetheless captures a variety of emotions through slight facial adjustments and spot-on body language. Children will relate to the thrill of an attic discovery as the improbable quest is fulfilled. For children with greater obstacles to their own picture-postcard dreamlands—those struggling in foster care, hospitals, or poverty—Lehman's work may resonate deeply. This book is best experienced independently or in small groups.—Jayne Damron, Farmington Community Library, MI
Kirkus Reviews

Once again, Caldecott Honoree Lehman (The Red Book, 2004) presents surprising visuals that playfully and mysteriously connect children across space and time. In the top floor of what seems an orphanage, amid rows of empty beds, a bespectacled boy hides a saltwater-taffy box under a floorboard. The box, readers know, holds photos, a postcard, tokens, ticket stubs and a map fragment, with a route sketched in red-penciled arrows. Double-page spreads of watercolor and gouache depict decades of transformation, as a rural landscape becomes a burgeoning city crowding out the sky. Two groups of children, separated by generations, discover the box of treasures, successively locating the cistern where the map quest begins and the stream—now buried in a brick-lined culvert—leading to the lovely, colorful Seahorse Pier. The author beckons readers, with the first trio, into a turreted room at the pier, where a crowd of kids—including the bespectacled lad who began the tale—enjoys a living space with hammocks, toys, food—all that the sere orphanage ward lacked. Ending with a modern boy and girl contemplating the culvert's entrance, she invites readers (her wordless pictures clearly beg to be read, pored over) to feel the tenuous bonds of child life loosen. Wonderful! (Picture book. 4-8)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547238685
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/21/2011
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 351,266
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Lehman has illustrated many books for children. Born in Chicago, Barbara attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she earned a BFA in communication design. A full-time illustrator, Barbara says, “Books and art have always held the strongest attraction for me. I have always felt drawn to ‘commercial art’ because of its ability to reach many people. I like the idea of being part of the media in a meaningful and thoughtful way, especially with children as the audience.” She now lives in Philmont, New York.

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