The Big Box

The Big Box


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786804160
Publisher: Disney Press
Publication date: 09/10/1999
Series: Jump at the Sun Series
Edition description: ILLUSTRATE
Pages: 48
Product dimensions: 11.25(w) x 11.25(h) x 0.25(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About 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.


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


Toni Morrison Makes You Think

In her first illustrated book for children, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison delivers a powerful, thought-provoking poem that challenges the definitions of societal boundaries adults set for children. In The Big Box, parents, teachers, and other adults determine the boundaries of personal freedom for three feisty kids "who just can't handle their freedom." To make these youngsters abide by their rules, the grown-ups create a world inside a box-a world with toys and games, treats and gifts, and all kinds of stuff they think kids need to be happy and carefree. But all these kids really want is the freedom to be themselves. And even confined inside a box, these clever children find their own ways to be free. (Ages 8 and up)

Toni Morrison Talks About The Big Box

Q: You've written The Big Box with your son Slade. What inspired the two of you to work together on this project?

A: My younger son was hurt and mystified by a teacher's comment (a common nostrum in education at the time) that he "couldn't handle his freedom." We talked about it off and on, trying to figure out what, other than the obvious, was meant. I jotted down his comments and complaints and later organized them and turned them into rhyme. His observations I expanded and shaped into an admittedly subversive story of adults not listening to children and retreating into "rules" that protect the adults-not the children.

Q: How do you think childhood has changed since you were raising your own children?

A: Children have not changed, but adults have. Expectations are lower in some ways: Parents do not need the labor of their children as was once the case. While this is certainly not true of all families, certainly not true of working families with modest incomes-increasingly, in the media and the discourse of parenting, one notices how irrelevant children have become. On the other hand, the expectations are higher than ever: Publicly approved "success" is intensely sought at earlier and earlier ages, and private achievement is devalued or taken for granted. More and more children are regarded as "trophies," "Oscars" bestowed on the parents.

Q: What is The Big Box about?

A: The plight (and resistance) of children living in a wholly commercialized environment that equates "entertainment" with happiness, products with status, "things" with love, and that is terrified of the free (meaning un-commodified, unpurchaseable) imagination of the young. (Although children participate enthusiastically in the "love me so buy me" pattern, I think they are taught to think that way and that on some deep level they know what is being substituted.)

Q: Many readers have asked, "What is the big box?" Some readers take it literally. Can you explain your intention in creating this "box" for children?

A: It is a soft, familiar, comfortable, everyday "prison" into which children are metaphorically placed when their imagination is suppressed or programmed.

The children in The Big Box are surrounded by a kind of perfection-they have the newest and best toys, they are in comfortable settings with soft chairs, treats of all kinds, including a fancy television set-but much of it is fake (a jar of dirt, a butterfly under a glass, a recording of a seagull), the doors only open one way, and there are multiple locks to keep the children from getting out.

Q: Are they being punished or protected?

A: Both. Precisely. The point of the story (and one of its points) is the difficulty we have in distinguishing between the two. One of the refrains in the book is "those kids can't handle their freedom."

Q: What kind of freedom do you think we take away from our children? What price do they, and the culture at large, pay for that loss of freedom?

A: Imaginative freedom is lost, as well as singularity.

Q: The parents in The Big Box seem to have the means to provide a lot for their children and yet they are largely absent. Do you feel that possessions are taking the place of parents in children's lives? Where are the parents?

A: We seem to be rearing consumers rather than citizens or individuals. The central problem is consumer happiness (which is a bottomless pit that can never be filled) vs. personal interior delight (learning how to relish ones perception and take pleasure from the accessible world). In the story, the world of nature is either denied or given in tiny, safe bits (jar of dirt, etc.). But no unfettered contact is allowed.

Q: In a recent discussion with a group of fifth graders and their parents, the kids dove into the questions raised in the book, while the adults confessed they thought it "weird" and "depressing." Does that surprise you?

A: I am not surprised. The story meant to provoke questions and reflections. (When I first put this story together, I was told that it was unsaleable because: 1. Adults bought children's books, not children, and 2. No children's book that did not offer a reconciliation with the adult view was marketable. In short, it was disturbing precisely because it suggested a division, a conflict between a child's point of view and an adult's. That seemed to be a strong dismissal of children's intelligence.)

Q: A parent asked if the kids thought there was more freedom (i.e. no more rules) in the box than outside. It raised interesting conversations-what do you think about this?

A: A good and revealing question. "Outside" has become more and more threatening. Parents are understandably (and legitimately) fearful of it, and in negotiating the dilemma of freedom vs. safety, the box (even if a prison) may represent security without risk.

Q: The head of the discussion group asked if kids ever feel like they are in a box. Did you have this question in mind when writing The Big Box?

A: I had in mind what all parents think about-the difficulty of figuring out what is protection and what is suppression. What is freedom and what is license. An eternal and universal condition of parenting and of growing up. A very hard job.

Q: Your kids are from all over-suburbs, farms, cities-do you think there are places in this country or in other parts of the world where children are not boxed in?

A: Certainly. Among families who refuse to be tyrannized by the "buy love" culture and among those who haven't the resources and have to rely on more inventive expressions of caring.

Q: What do you hope children will hear in the language of the book?

A: The voice of another child who had the same questions they have.

Q: What do you hope parents will take away after a reading of The Big Box?

A: Thoughts about how much weight we give to "things" in order to show love and caring. Thoughts about what our children really want and need from us.

Q&A courtesy of Hyperion Books for Children.

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Big Box 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
bekstrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an example of fantasy. It is a small step from reality because parents wouldn't make their children live in boxes and visit only on wednesday nights. The story tells the truths about behavior in a way that students might understand better than stating proper behavior. The style incorperates rhyme. The rhyme causes the reader to read the book in a specific fluid motion. I would use this book in a primary classrom. The type of media used is pencil. There are detailed strokes and shading.
my624persona on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Comfort the Disturbed, Disturb the Comfortable would be a perfect subtitle for this book for those who don't understand its power. Nobel Prize -winning author and poet Toni Morrison really socks it to us with The Big Box, an illustrated poem about three children who get punished just for being themselves. Featuring a multiracial cast illustrated by Morrison's Slade, The Big Box will chill the spine of all but the most unfeeling adults and give context and power to any child who has felt caged. The text of the poem is deceptively simple, with (over)tones at multiple levels of access for multiple kinds of readers. Recommended for children 5 and up and the adults in their lives.
emithomp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Patty, Mickey, and Liza Sue are three children who just "can't handle their freedom," so their parents put them in a big box with everything they could wish for . . . except a door that opens out.The pictures are lovely and playful. I really like the use of words and the way the children almost jump off the page. However, I wonder who the text of this book is for. According to the back flap, Slade Morrison envisioned this story when he was nine years old, and Toni Morrison embellished the poetry. I wonder how much came from each of them. A story about three children who live in a box, intrigues me, but the fact that their parents put them there is a bit frightening. Not to say that scary isn't good for children, but Morrison directs the moral at the parents rather than at the children. The parents in the book impose the rules on Patty and Mickey and Liza Sue, and they never get a satisfactory answer as to why. I really wish the book had gone on for a few more pages and let the characters find a way to break out of the box.I honestly think that this is the sort of book progressive parents buy to make themselves feel like they are giving their children a well-rounded library. I think there are better books out there.
artlibby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This picture storybook tells the story of three youngsters whose failure to follow the rules of the adults in their world lands them in a big brown box. Their parents try to mimic the outside world for them by bringing them candy, toys and reproductions of nature. However, the children want their freedom! Somehow all the goodies their parents bring do not extinguish this need. The benefits of freedom are highlighted by the pleasures felt by animals in the wild. Children will delight in the whimsical depictions of the three main characters and the adorable animals that populate this book. Young readers will also relate to the children's attempts to behave to the best of their ability. This book makes a great read aloud due to the rhyming style of the text and the repetitive patterns used. Perfect for elementary school libraries.
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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.