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The Big Box

The Big Box

by Disney Book Group, Giselle Potter (Illustrator)
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:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
11.25(w) x 11.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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