Written and Illustrated by Antoinette Portis
Why are you sitting in that box?
It’s not a box.
The plot in a nutshell: A rabbit uses his imagination to transform a box
The rabbit claims to not be sitting in the box because he is imagining it to be a racecar. When he appears to be standing on a box, he sees himself at the top of a mountain he has just climbed. Of course, when he’s squirting a box with water, he’s pretending to be a fireman and the box is pretending to be a building on fire. Instead of wearing the box, he becomes RAB-BOT XL-3, a giant robot. The box can become a hot air balloon, pirate ship and even a spaceship, because this is his Not-a-Box.
Author/illustrator Antoinette Portis does so many things right with this wonderful book that I almost don’t know where to start. I guess I’ll go with the cover, since that’s your first impression. This book’s cover is brown cardboard, looking cleverly like a cardboard box, with the net weight (11.5 oz) printed on the front and ‘This Side Up’ embossed in red on the back. It’s your first indication that you’re going to engage your imagination on this book and think (pardon the pun) outside the box. On the introductory pages, we see the rabbit finding the box and dragging or pushing it over to where the story begins and we first see him sitting inside it.
The story is a very quick read and the pictures are simple line drawings with the rabbit and his box in black lines and the objects of his imagination in red lines all around him. I love that we get to see him interact with the box in lots of different ways, including being inside it, on top of it, behind it and beside it, underscoring the limitless nature of creativity. I have never known a child who could resist an empty box and this book reminds us all how far we can go when we let our imagination take over the controls for a while. Ms. Portis followed this up with Not a Stick, which explores a wide variety of things a stick can be.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that, with a good imagination, ordinary objects can become extraordinary toys.