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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002


  • Thursday, Friday 10 am - 4 pm
  • Saturday 10 am - 5 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 5 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Picture Books We Love

Cardboard Inspiration: Books to Spark Imagination

Inspired by the At Home Art Studio’s exploration of cardboard boxes and found object art, I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite books that use cardboard boxes in clever and imaginative ways.

Cover image for The Cardboard Kingdom shows five chidlren in handmade costumes cheering from the top of a castle made of cardboard.

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (Knopf, 2018) is a graphic novel perfect for elementary and middle school readers. Through a compilation of interweaving stories, each focusing on a different kid in the neighborhood, the characters transform ordinary cardboard boxes into imaginative costumes and a fantastical collaborative kingdom. Each story explores a diverse set of identity issues, such as gender roles, family issues, sibling rivalry, and bullying, as the kids learn to celebrate their true selves through imaginative play. One girl’s character, dubbed Big Banshee, questions her inner strength and loudness when her grandmother tells her girls shouldn’t be loud. The Gargoyle stays up late to watchfully protect his mom from his no-good dad. The Robot learns how to navigate difficult social situations like a party successfully. This book touches on important identity issues in a beautiful, embracing way, while being action-packed and 100% fuel for the reader’s imagination. 

Image of two children wearing cardboard boxes on their heads shaped like monster teeth, holding up fists and growling with the text "ROARRRRR"   Image of boy in a purple cape and cardboard box on head looking like a superhero standing on his house roof.

Here’s my nephew, inspired to create his own Cardboard Kingdom character after reading the book!

Photo of child wearing a cardboard box costume around their torso and a box on their head, carrying a wooden sword.

Cover image for This Is Sadie shows a girl in a fox mask sitting in a field of wildflowers.

Image of a sleeping girl on a quilt wearing a snail antennae headband with a simple cardboard box on back like a snail shell.

Through poetic text by Sara O’Leary and stunning watercolor and gouache illustrations by Julie Morstad, anything is possible in This is Sadie (Tundra Books, 2015). Sadie is a child with an enormous imagination. She transforms a simple cardboard box into a giant ship to sail the wide sea and allows her mind to take her to magical and wild places. Sadie’s confidence is inspiring and contagious. “Sadie has wings, of course. They are just very, very hard to see. Still she knows they are there. Maybe you have them too. Have you checked?” While Sadie keeps herself independently busy with her stories and daydreams, she inspires us to welcome a bit more play into our everyday lives.

Cover image for The Patchwork Bike shows a young girl wearing sunglesses, shorts and a t-shirt on a bicycle made with found objects

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clark, illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd (Candlewick Press, 2016) introduces us to three siblings whose pride and joy is their homemade bike. They’ve created this bike from materials found around their village like “bashed tin can handles and wood-cut wheels.”  

Image from The Patchwork Bike shows a bike made of found objects like tin can handles, wooden wheels and a car bucket seat on a crate. Image is painted on top of cardboard. Text on page states" but the best thing of all in our village is me and my brothers' bike."

The bike may be a bit wonky or shaky but they have the best time riding it all over their village and the nearby desert, much to their fed-up mom’s dismay. The exuberant illustrations are made from acrylic paint on recycled cardboard, showcasing packing tape, torn edges, and stamped imprints from the original boxes alongside the painted scenes, lending a unique texture and movement to the art. Just like the patchwork bike loved by these children, these illustrations highlight the beauty in creating art from found objects and the pride that comes from showing what you can make with limited resources.

Illustration from The Patchwork Bike shows girl on the bike wearing sunglasses with her two brothers riding on the bike behind her with their arms exuberantly up in the air. All three are smiling and rays of blue paint dramatically capture the excitement.

Back at The Carle earlier this year at a recent Open Book Open Play program, the artwork in "The Patchwork Bike" inspired toddlers and preschoolers to experiment with texture and paint, using rollers and toy cars to make marks on cardboard.

Photo shows three children rolling colored paint on cardboard with paint rollers and toy cars.  Close up image of child hands rolling textured printed rollers in primary colored ink to create patterns and art on cardboard.

Try this at home or head over to the Art Studio blog for more ways to incorporate cardboard and other found material into your art-making. Share with us on social media or in the comment below any books or art projects you come up with inspired by cardboard!





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