Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It's Not a Box, So What Could It Be?

Read It. Move It. Share It.
This is the fourth post in my collaboration with independent dance educator Maria Hanley from Maria's Movers. Each month I recommend a picture book for Maria to incorporate into her creative movement classes, and then we both share our experiences with the book. You can read Maria's April post here.

Have you ever noticed how young children can occupy themselves for hours on end with the simplest of objects? Wrapping paper, bubble wrap, and stickers are a few that come to mind. But cardboard boxes seem to have the same magical quality--one that inspires creativity and imagination--and one that is captured so simply and effortlessly in the picture book Not a Box, by Antoinette Portis.

Not a Box actually physically resembles a box on the outside. The texture and color of its cover evoke images of a box, and the back cover even has the words "This Side Up" printed alongside a couple of arrows, just as you might see on a box being delivered in the mail. The inside of the book, however, demonstrates that what might look like a simple box, to the outside eye, could actually be a variety of other objects, if only you use your imagination. 

The main character is a bunny who transforms a cardboard box into a race car, a burning house, a robot, and a myriad of other things that only a young child (or creator Antoinette Portis) would be able to dream up. The interesting part is that there is an unseen character who can only see a plain box, and so keeps asking the bunny what he is doing with "a box." The bunny's reply, appropriately in all cases, is "It's not a box!"

In an interview with publisher HarperCollins, Antoinette Portis reminisces about her own imaginative play as a child. "I would get a flutter of excitement in my stomach setting out to play Pueblo Indian or Pirate or Prima Ballerina--I was about to have an adventure! My imagination never let me down--it always took me to a place that I loved to be," she says.

One of the reasons I recommended this book to Maria is because I know that Maria likes to incorporate props into her dance classes, and I thought a cardboard box could make an interesting one. I almost recommended the book Not a Stick as well, but I was afraid of what might happen if any young dancers got a little "too creative" with a pointed object during class, if you know what I mean. I know Maria has used rhythm sticks in her tap classes, though, so I will leave that one up to her!   

Find out here if Maria used cardboard boxes in her classes this week. And, if you're itching for more ideas on props for creative movement, check out this post on Dance Advantage or this guest post by Stacey Pepper Schwartz over at 4dancers. Today is also Book Talk Tuesday at Lemme Library. You can read about more educational and fun books for kids there. Happy reading! 


  1. I didn't even notice the back of the book! I love that :) Thanks for picking a great book!

  2. A box would make an interesting dance tool. My daughter once made a box into a bird, used the flaps as wings and sat inside it pretending to fly in the sky. Perhaps I should have taken the bottom out so she could have used her feet to soar, dancing through the sky with her box.

  3. Kerry,

    I love this book idea, because this will go right in line with what I've been doing in my prek classes. I have been using colored tape to make large floor shapes for the kids to dance on and off of. They would also use there imaginations to turn the floor shape into a flower pot and such. So much fun and the kids will love this book...can't wait to try it!

  4. Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

    Brimful, my kids love to play in boxes, too...and in laundry baskets!

    Michelle, I love it when the timing is just right for things like this. I'm so glad you think the book will be useful. It's a very simple book, but a great bouncing off point for imaginative play!

  5. I love the idea of this book - I'll have to look for it! What a great collaboration.

    When I was a kid, my parents made me a beautiful playhouse out of a giant box. My mom painted it to look like it had grass and flowers growing in front of it. I got years and years of fun out of it.

    Thanks for the suggestion!

  6. Thanks, Brooke. You might be able to find the book in your local library. Our library has a ton of copies, but it doesn't have the companion book Not a Stick. Hopefully yours will! Your parents sounds very creative. What a wonderful memory...

  7. I'll have to pick these up. Boxes are the best! My 10 year old still collects boxes. Armed with cardboard, duct tape and his imagination, anything is possible! Thanks for your comment about "Flora's Windy Day".

  8. We used paper boxes to explore movements inspired by this wonderful book! After a time of exploration, I had each child create a movement and we then put the movements together to create our box dace. It was amazing whateventhe youngest dancers came up with!

  9. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know how you used this book. I love the idea of having each child add a movement to the "box dance!"


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