A girl wearing sunglasses rides a bike with her two brothers on the bike behind her with their arms exuberantly up in the air.
Article Type Story Board Behind the Scenes Categories Books

Unboxing Imagination: Books about Cardboard to Spark Creativity

Eliza Brown
Cardboard can be just the start to unboxing a world of imagination! The Carle Bookshop shares three books that use a cardboard box in inspiring and creative ways.
Inspired by the At Home Art Studio’s exploration of cardboard boxes and found object art, I wanted to highlight a few favorite books in The Carle Bookshop that use cardboard boxes in clever and imaginative ways.
Two interior pages of comic panels show children cutting up boxes to create costumes and getting swept away with their imaginations.
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. 
A sleeping girl lies 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.
Illustration of 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.
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.” 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.
Photo shows three children rolling colored paint on cardboard with paint rollers and toy cars.

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. 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. What will you make?


Photograph of Carle Bookshop Manger Eliza Brown standing behind cash register and smiling.

Eliza Brown

Eliza Brown is the manager of The Carle Bookshop since 2012, a lifelong reader, and a children’s bookseller for over 15 years. Eliza has a Masters from Simmons University in children’s literature and is dedicated to connecting readers and art lovers with books they will love.

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The Cardboard Kingdom #2 Roar of the Beast

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My Rainy Day Rocket Ship

Christina Katerina & The Box

What To Do With a Box