Genre: YA fantasy graphic novel
Length: 283 pages
Setting: a typical U.S. city, present day
Interest: It was a new graphic novel I saw at my local library.
Summary: Mike is a single father, looking for work. His wife died recently and he so broke he can’t afford a birthday present for his son, Cam. It doesn’t help the neighborhood rich kid, Marcus, is a bully and lords his toys over Cam. Mike buys Cam a cardboard box from a crazy road-side seller who gives him two rules for the cardboard: “First, you must return every scrap you don’t use!… And second, you can’t ask me for more cardboard.” Mike and Cam make a boxer, Bill, out of cardboard, and it comes to life. Marcus uses a squirt gun to ruin Bill’s legs, and in a panic, Mike uses the scraps to fashion a cardboard maker. Marcus again wheedles his way into Cam’s life and steals the cardboard maker, creating a monster maker to speed up the creation of cardboard monsters. Unfortunately, the monsters don’t listen to Marcus and make their own cardboard kingdom. Marcus and Cam are captured and sent to the cardboard kingdom to be killed. Mike and Bill try to rescue the boys. Eventually, all the cardboard is destroyed when Bill sets off a nuclear rain device.
Final thoughts: This is definitely a story that works best in a graphical medium. The cardboard creations, especially in the cardboard kingdom below Marcus’ house, were fantastic. You could tell they had life, but were still based on cardboard. There were several stories of redemption and change presented in the book. Mike needs to move on from his wife dying, and Cam and Bill help him look beyond his misery. Even more striking is the change in Marcus. He’s given everything he wants, but can’t live up to his father’s expectations, so he takes it out in bullying. By the end, Cam helps Marcus realize you have to be true to yourself.
There’s also the underlying theme of the importance of making things with your own hands and how satisfying that can be. In fact, both kids read the book already, and were found in the basement last night, building things from cardboard. Excellent! Finally, there’s a little bit of “the importance of following rules” in the book. Mike doesn’t follow the two simple rules he’s given. In fact, the cardboard maker he creates actively flouts the second rule, and all of the problems develop because of it. As you can see, the author packed a lot into the book, and none of it is preachy.
This was shelved in the YA section of my library. It’s definitely for a slightly older crowd because of the bullying by Marcus and the stress of almost being caught and killed several times in the cardboard kingdom. My nine-year old read it and loved it, though, so I don’t think you need to wait until you’re a teen to enjoy the story.
Title comes from: All the excitement starts with a cardboard box.
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