Someday I will get back to blogging on a more regular basis. There are so many books I’m constantly thinking about and aching to share, but they must come slowly right now as keeping two small humans alive is a momentous task, especially in a new city. Settling into the new place has brought this book to mind many times and it has delighted my toddler immensely. We’ve had boxes galore arrive and live amongst us for days, many being quite large. This book has done much to fuel the imagination. Join me in delighting at the seemingly endless creativity in one small girl as she dreams up one adventure after another using nothing but a large, cardboard box. Here is Christina Katerina & the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch, illustrated by Doris Burn, 1971.
One of the first things that drew me to this book was the use of two colors. The chance of it being a production necessity is quite plausible, but I prefer to think that it was a conscious decision by the artist. It’s brilliant really. If someone were to tell me that they were going to create a book using only black and a cardboard color brown, I’m not sure I would think to describe it as lovely, but it is so perfect for this story. The star of the show really is the lowly cardboard box, so why not highlight it and it alone with color?
In this story we have a little girl with a long and memorable name perfect for her own literature, Christina Katerina. She likes things, but not just toys and typical things, the kind of stuff that people most likely discard: “tin cups and old dresses, worn-out ties and empty boxes. Any of those things, but mostly boxes.” This is a girl after my childhood self’s heart. I too was a collector of things and had endless hours of play creating all kinds of new things out of them. And I loved boxes as well, although I occasionally ran into the fateful insects who also loved boxes and that frequently put a damper on my joy… but I digress.
According to Gauch’s delightful language, “one sleepy summer day” Christina and her mother were thrilled when a delivery truck brought their new refrigerator. Christina’s mother is a lover of the new and tidy whereas Christina quickly claimed the refrigerator’s box as her own and pondered what to use it for.
It started out as her castle, with the help of her father. It was a lovely castle indeed full of iron bars, cups and saucers, and Fig Newtons of course. She reveled in it for two days until her “sometimes-friend” Fats Watson came to play, ate all the Fig Newtons, caused a fight between them and ended up kicking over the castle.
Christina’s mother pounced on the moment to remove the finished castle, but Christina realized that it wasn’t a castle; it was actually her clubhouse!
On the cycle continues with the box becoming a new creation abounding in fun until Fats causes some trouble and much to Christina’s tidy mother’s dismay, Christina comes up with a new use for it. That crazy large box has a very full life as the aforementioned castle, a clubhouse, a racing car, and finally the floor of her summer mansion. The last one is quite possibly my very favorite as it is just so incredibly clever I wish I would have thought of it as a child.
It’s a funny thing to read this book as an adult and yet also have my childhood self in mind. The child part of me that remembers and loves being (forgive the unfortunate pun) out-of-the-box creative is enamored with darling Christina Katerina’s enjoyment of the box. But there is also the adult, housekeeping, perhaps a little too clean side of me that has to sympathize and also laugh at the mother. I am quickly learning the pains of trying to keep a tidy house while having an imaginative toddler afoot. Even when it is my own mess of creativity, I often find myself itching to clean up and get things back in order. How silly we adults can be!
I also love how accurate this book is about friendship as a kid. Who didn’t have someone they could call a “sometimes-friend” whom you loved playing with but at the same time were so frustrated by their antics or contrary ideas? This story does such a fun job of including that, not highlighting it, but subtly allowing it to be the element that pushes the story and Christina’s imagination along. It brings to mind an oft-favorite song with these lyrics: “But tension is to be loved, when it is like a passing note to a beautiful, beautiful chord.”
Spring is still in full swing here, but I hope that books like this kindle some brilliant and clever ideas for play in my daughter’s mind as well as my own (and yours!) once the lazy, and hot, days of summer are upon us. Too often in our society we turn to new things, shiny things, purchasable things to entertain and stifle whatever boredom we think is on the way. While I recognize the irony that the source of creativity only came when something new was purchased, I think the application is more in looking at everything with more imagination rather than just tossing it aside because it doesn’t bring multiple ideas to mind immediately. While I don’t want to be a pack-rat, there really is no harm in enjoying something like a box just a little longer, before relegating it to the recycling pile. I know my daughter agrees as she dances on, writes on, and builds towers on the most recent pile of boxes that arrived this weekend. They might in actuality be empty, but they are abounding in giggly bouts of fun at the moment and that is worth a little less space in the apartment. At least for a while….