Not a Box - Thao Lam
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Not a Box

Not a Box

Not a Box

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Last week, our super duper cat-scratching post was delivered, with the manufacturer’s guarantee that this will become our cat’s new best friend and will make him the envy of all cats. Well, Binky wasn’t impressed. However, he was wild about the box it was delivered in; he spent hours playing with the packaging. I remember such simple joys, being ecstatic as a kid when large appliances were delivered. My sister and I would spend hours playing house or building a McDonald’s drive through with the boxes. Keep reading…

Author and illustrator Antoinette Portis pushes readers to think outside the box with her award winning book, Not a Box. Nothing is as ordinary as it seems in this story, because with a bit of imagination from a little rabbit, a cardboard box leads to infinite possibilities of play. Set in question-and-answer format, an unenlightened voice asks the rabbit, “Why are you sitting in a box?” and on the opposite page the rabbit demonstrates the box’s many uses. “It’s not a box!” he insists, revealing a race car, a robot, a boat, a rocket ship and many other wonders, whatever his creativity can conjure.

The cover was cleverly designed to look like a cardboard box, right down to the title treatment, which has been set to look similar to the warnings on shipping boxes (“this way up” or “fragile”). The rest of the story is illustrated in simple black line drawings with superimposed red line drawings that act as overlays to reveal the rabbit’s imaginings. The illustrations are set against clean backgrounds, leaving readers with plenty of room for their own imaginations to contribute.

Not a Box, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

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Author and Illustrator Antoinette Portis

The author and illustrator is Antoinette Portis but googling her name resulted in very little information. If anyone out there has any info, please share.

I am always tickled pink when an author or an illustrator, takes time out of their busy schedule to reply to a fan mail.

“Playing in a discarded box (the bigger the better, of course) was one of my favorite memories, so I wanted to do a book about that. But the words “sitting in a box” were sitting on my idea list for 3 years before I figured out to grow that seed into a book.

One day, washing dishes at my mom’s house, I looked out onto the driveway and remembered when I was 7 or so, sitting there in a cardboard box with tin-can lids glued to the front for headlights, pretending I was the engineer driving a train. My brother was in a box behind me. We were whoo-whoo-ing and in our imaginations, hearing the clickety-clack of the wheels on the track as we barreled along a mountainside towards a tunnel (the open garage door) where delightful dangers lurked. I remembered clearly how much fun we were having and how absolutely enthralled we were. What was most exciting was knowing that our imaginations were so powerful. That we could invent a scenario and then inhabit it fully. It’s a joy to feel that power. (And that is why I do what I do now. To feel that.)

Then I thought how funny it must have been for my mom to see us just sitting around in boxes having our invisible fantasies.

So the memory was two-fold—I looked at it from an enthralled child’s point of view and a disengaged adult’s. That difference interested me. So I knew the book would need to show an interaction between a grownup and a child, not just show a child playing alone with a box. I wanted to show the tension between imagination and reality. And I wanted the child and his/her imagination to have the upper hand.”

– Antoinette Portis –

To read more on Antoinette Portis, please visit her website:

Publisher HarperCollins (December 12, 2006)

ISBN-10 0061123226

ISBN-13 978-0061123221