Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Symbolism of a Box

Several months ago, I ran across Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnavas and loved it immediately, but it wasn’t widely available. I’m pleased to tell you about it now. If your local library doesn’t have it yet, request it. Better yet, purchase a copy for yourself and one for your library. This rich book will have you and your family, classroom, or congregation considering just what is Jessica’s box while delighting in her gumption.
Jessica is nervous because she is about to start school. Her family is supportive and hopes she will make “plenty of friends.” Jessica has a plan to do just that. She brings a box to school, hoping to build curiosity about its contents. When she reveals a teddy bear, her peers are unimpressed and wander away. Jessica is both surprised and disappointed.
That night her mom, while they do yoga (I love this illustration!) advises her to “try something else. Next Jessica makes and brings cupcakes in her box. The goodies are quickly gobbled, but just as quickly, Jessica’s classmates disappear without even a “thank you.”

Jessica decides that her dog should be the next box surprise. Doris will win them over! The children love Doris, but not the school’s groundskeeper who declares that dogs aren’t allowed and takes Doris back home.” That night, Jessica and her father quietly consider possibilities under a full moon, another wonderful illustration!
Finally, Jessica brings nothing in her box; instead she uses it to quietly disappear. A boy assumes she is playing Hide & Seek so he says, “Found you!... Now you have to find me. Count to ten.” Jessica, realizes she has found a friend after all and begins counting.
After reporting that she did make a friend at school, Jessica’s grandpa says, “You must have had something very special in your box today.” Jessica smiles and says, “I did.”
There are many aspects of this book that are especially positive. First of all, Jessica’s wheelchair and the reason she needs it are never mentioned. She is a typical, capable, child. I love this! We’ve come a long way in children’s literature!
I also love some little touches in the illustrations such as a bird that will be fun for children to spot. What I mostly love about this picture book is the potential symbolism of Jessica’s box.
I read this book to my family and some dinner guests one evening. I wasn’t surprised to hear each of them offering different possibilities of what Jessica’s box might represent. Of course, there’s no correct answer. The possibilities are many. If you want to hear some of those possibilities, let me know in a comment and I’ll share my ideas. Meanwhile, consider how you might use this book to talk about secrets, wholeness, generosity, offering, friendship, anxiety, transitions, family, creativity, hope, limits, community, vulnerability, gratitude, resilience, and affirmation. Scripture abounds with connections to these ideas and all that might be symbolic of Jessica’s box.  
Picture Book: Jessica’s Box
Author & Illustrator: Peter Carnavas
Original Publisher & Date: New Frontier, 2008 
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Not at present