Two sisters, Annie and Flora, find a big box on their lawn and wonder what might be in it. "Whatever it is, can it be mine?" asks Flora. This is a lovely, simple tale for pre-school children, which celebrates the power of the imagination, encouraging young readers to join in with Annie and Flora as they ponder the different animals that could be inside the box.
Colourful, vibrant pictures really bring this book to life. They contain just enough detail to hold the reader's attention but not so much as to make the pages too 'busy' and distracting. I think the pictures could carry the story quite well even without the words, which means that children who have already had the story read to them could re-tell it for themselves as they turn the pages, an important pre-reading skill.
The book draws the reader in from the first page as we come face to face with this intriguing-looking box, tied up with parcel string and bearing curious labels which say things like 'Fragile', 'Do not Crush' and 'Handle with care.' Children are bound to want to keep turning the pages in the hope of seeing something emerge from the box, but they will have to wait until the end of the story to find out what is inside.
What I like about this book is that there is a good balance between predictability and surprise elements. A pattern is quickly established where Annie suggests an animal that she thinks might be in the box and Flora says, "Can it still be mine?" Then Annie rushes off to find something that she thinks that particular animal might need, such as a banana for a monkey, and Flora asks if she can have one too. I think it is quite reassuring to young readers to have a degree of repetition in a story, but I like the way the author has included an unexpected twist here and there to stop things becoming boring.
For instance, just when the reader is used to Flora piping up, "Can it still be mine?" each time a new animal is considered, Annie notices the edge of the box has been chewed and she suggests that maybe there's a crocodile inside. This time Flora says, "In that case, I think it might be yours."
This story provides an opportunity for young children to think about the relative sizes of different animals. Although at first Annie thinks the box might contain a monkey, she then deduces that the box is too big for a monkey, so maybe it's an elephant. Then she notices that the box is really tall, so perhaps there's a giraffe inside.
One of the most amusing features of the story is the way Annie keeps rushing into the house to find something for the animal that she thinks is in the box. Fetching a banana for a monkey is perhaps an obvious choice, but some of the things she finds for the animals are a bit more random. For example, when she thinks there might be an elephant in the box, Annie goes in search of a spotted handkerchief, "in case he has a runny nose." When she thinks it might be a crocodile, she heads off to find it a toothbrush. For a giraffe, she finds a scarf to keep his neck warm. It's a fun way to get children talking about the key characteristics of animals, such as an elephant's long trunk, a crocodile's sharp teeth and a giraffe's long neck.
The ending is capable of several interpretations and may be a bit frustrating to those children who prefer things to be spelled out absolutely clearly to them. I think the ending could stimulate some really enjoyable chats though. Annie and Flora are about to go in the house to have their dinner, but what will happen when they come back out again? Although in some ways it seems that the story is being left at a really crucial moment and leaves you wanting a bit more, it does encourage children to use their own imaginations to tie up any loose ends.
It's the sort of story which could have a different ending every time you read it, depending on your mood and how you choose to interpret things and I think that is quite a clever technique on behalf of the author. My youngest daughter always found ambiguous endings intriguing, but not all children do.
Reading this story may encourage children to talk about which animal they would have liked to find in the box. What things would they have collected for it? What size box would that animal have needed?
I think this is a delightful book and an endearing portrayal of a relationship between two sisters. Annie, the big sister, takes the lead in the game, but little Flora is very much a part of it. I love the way the author captures the enthusiasm of childhood games, the way the girls use whatever props they have available to them to spark their imaginative play. It's quite inspiring. It is also rather sweet for adult readers to observe the sisters' child-like logic at work. I think it is very well observed.
I have no hesitation in recommending this for children age 2 to 6, especially those with a fondness for wild animals. It's great for reading aloud as the use of a larger font to emphasise key phrases really spurs you on to give the words a bit more oomph and enthusiasm. The repetition of phrases like, "Can it still be mine?" offer an opportunity for children to join in with the telling of the story.
The Box is available used from sellers at Amazon from £0.01.