Gift Guide 2018: Neighborhood Superheroes
December 2, 2018 § 2 Comments
To say that Chad Sell’s graphic novel, The Cardboard Kingdom (Ages 7-10), has developed a cult following among my children and their friends might be an understatement. In the week we got it, each of my kids read it five times, conservatively. Then they introduced it to friends on a beach trip, where the book was passed back and forth among all five children every morning on our way to the beach and every afternoon on our way home. A few weeks after we left, my friend texted me a picture of her girls wearing handmade costumes. “They told me you would understand?” she wrote. I needed a little help from my daughter, who didn’t hesitate for a second: “Animal Queen and Big Banshee!”
The Cardboard Kingdom is actually ten overlapping stories, each written in conjunction with a different writer friend of Sell’s and centered around a different child. Together, they paint a picture of a group of neighborhood kids—a refreshingly diverse range of ages, races, and gender identities—who come together during the final week of summer break to explore their alter egos through imaginative play and a whole lot of cardboard. In the vibrant visuals, readers experience both the fantasy playing out in the children’s minds and the reality of what that actually looks like.
As I was thinking about how to sing the praises of this book, I realized I could prattle on about navigating social dynamics and challenging gender norms—or I could let you hear directly from two of the book’s biggest fans. So, I went ahead and interviewed each of my children and have compiled their answers below.
Q. How would you describe what this book is about?
Emily (age 8): It’s about kids in a neighborhood who get to be really good friends because of their imagination, and they go on all these fun and crazy adventures without ever actually leaving their street. Sometimes they fight against each other, like good against evil, but no one actually gets hurt, because it’s only pretend.
JP (age 11): All the different kids in the neighborhood take their personalities and put them into different characters and costumes that are unique to them and super powerful. It’s a story about having fun together and including everyone.
Emily: I like how every time you read it, you’re constantly finding parts you missed, especially in the adventures. Reading this book is kind of like what happens when you play with your neighbors: you can’t stop.
Emily: They’re really good. They show what the kids are feeling without describing it.
Emily: That you can always find good in people who are mean. There’s a chapter called “The Bully,” where a boy thinks the other kids are being stupid, so he tears up their creations to make them feel bad. But then when he leaves, he gets bullied by other kids, so he comes back to the [earlier] kids and joins forces with them, because now he knows what it feels like to be bullied.
JP: The book encourages you to use your imagination and to include everyone when you play.
Emily: No matter what problems are going on in your life, you can always find a way to have fun.
JP: Some of the kids struggle to make friends. One of the kids is really loud and no one likes it, but when she puts that loudness into her character, it kind of works. Another kid is a boy who likes dressing up as a girl. His character is Sorceress. His parents don’t really like it; they don’t understand why he wants to be a girl. But the other kids don’t act like it’s a big deal, because he’s actually a really good sorceress.
[I have to add: I absolutely love the Sorceress storyline, especially when the boy’s mother finally sits him down to try to understand his interest. “Is it really just dress-up and make-believe?” she asks. “Who is the sorceress?” And the boy responds, “She’s what I want to be…magical and powerful and amazing.”]
Emily: Because it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of books. And because it will make them think about how other people are feeling, especially the other kids on your street, when you are all playing together.
JP: Because it’s about all different kinds of kids, and there’s no discrimination, and it sets a good example about being inclusive. Also, it’s really fun.
Book published by Random House. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!
Tagged: backyard, cardboard box, Chad Sell, children's books about imagination, children's books celebrating inclusion, friendship in children's stories, graphic novels, holiday gift guide 2018, magic, summer, super hero