1.17.2014

PPBF: The Big Box


Today's PPBF is an oldie but goodie on my shelves that came to mind when we were discussing differentiation and individualized instruction the other day.

Title: The Big Box
Author: Toni Morrison with Slade Morrison
Illustrator: Giselle Potter
Publisher: Jump At The Sun (Hyperion Books)
Date: 1999
Suitable for ages: 8 and up
Themes: self-control, creativity, freedom

Brief synopsis:  Three children who challenge their boundaries and, in an adult's world, "just can't handle their freedom" are banished to life in The Big Box.

Opening Page: Patty and Mickey and Liza Sue
Live in a big brown box.
It has carpets and curtains and beanbag chairs.
And the door has three big locks.

Oh, it's pretty inside and the windows are wide
With shutters to keep out the day.
They have swings and slides and custom-made beds
And the doors open only one way.

Resources: 
Read a review from BrainPickings {here}.
Read a Publishers Weekly review {here}. 
Read the history behind the story {here}.
Find discussion questions at Teaching Children Philosophy {here}.

My suggestions for follow-up include using these reflection questions:

1. Did Patty do something wrong? If so, what?
2. Did Mickey do something wrong? If so, what?
3. Did Liza do something wrong? If so, what
4. Who, if anyone, acted unfairly in this story?
5. The children got really cool stuff when their parents visited. Would you be willing to trade your freedom for those things? Why or why not?
6. Were the children acting responsibly before they were put in the Box? Do you suppose that time in The Box would improve their behavior? Why or why not?
7. Describe a time when you might have felt like Patty, Liza, or Mickey. What steps did you take to improve your situation?
8. Think about the Six Pillars of Character. Give examples of how the three children showed good character and didn't show good character.

And this reinforcement activity:

Please Release Me!

Ask your students to choose one of the children: Mickey, Patty or Liza. They will be writing and delivering a short speech, campaigning for the release of their chosen child from his/her prison sentence. They can do it as a third-person narrative on their child's behalf or in the first-person as the child him/herself. Encourage your students to base their argument on your character values. Allow students to use the following questions as a guide:

1. Why would your chosen character benefit from his/her release?
2. What has your chosen character done to deserve his/her release?
3. How will your chosen character behave differently following his/her release?
4. What has your chosen character learned from his/her time in The Big Box?
5. Where will your chosen character go following his/her release?
6. How will he/she behave?

Why I like this book: This creative masterpiece serves as an excellent metaphor for freedom of self-expression, creativity, and individuality. Based on the adventures of three feisty-spirited children, this book details their youthful antics fueled by their unbridled freedom. Patty is a rebel in the classroom, Mickey upsets his neighborhood, and Liza frees the animals on the farm. Challenged by how to handle their energetic kids, the powers-that-be gather to figure it out. Instead of championing their innocence, celebrating their creativity, and fostering their voice and choice, their grown-ups diagnose the symptoms and treat the illness by forcing the kids to stay within the boxy confines of their orderly adult worlds. Oh, they mean well, but at what cost? 

I came from a home where we were repeatedly told that "children are to be seen and not heard." In schools and in homes, we can be authoritarian and operate under a "my way or the highway" regime or we can adopt a coaching model in which we listen to, mentor and guide. I know which one I would have preferred for my childhood; ask your students which one they think children would do better in. Set up a debate just for fun.

Check out this book; I think that it will generate a riveting discussion 
about creativity, freedom and individuality.





22 comments:

  1. This sounds like it provides a lot of opportunity for discussion - thanks for sharing!

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    1. You are correct, Andrea. I'm not sure why it has some bad reviews. Except for a few awkward-rhyme spots, I think it's tops!

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  2. I haven't heard of this one. Thanks for reviewing it. Now I'm wondering if our library has it...

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    1. My pleasure. I wrote some of those questions 15 years ago when I first discovered this treasure but I think they'll still work with today's learners.

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  3. I have never read this book and am intrigued with the idea of putting the kids in a box. I imagaine students have a lot to say about to say about that. Without reading it, I would not have thought that is was a metaphone for creativity, freedom and individuality. I really like how you use this book with your students to emphase values and self-expression. Your activities are really excellent! I'm going to have to read this book.

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    1. As always, I am glad that you stopped by the Corner and shared your reflections. Your kind words mean a lot to me. And yes, I think you ARE going to have to read this one, Pat!

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  4. Sounds like an interesting book! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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    1. You bet! I always hesitate to recommend a book that's been around so long on the chance that people have already seen it, but this one didn't get the BEST reviews, so maybe that's why it's not gained as much visibility in its 15 years.

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  5. I'm not familiar with this book but it sounds like it pushes some boundaries too! Good to remember that kids aren't little adults. :)

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    1. That's spot on, Wendy - it pushes some boundaries. As such, it was seen as a bit controversial in some of the reviews I read, but that intrigues me all the more! I'd love to know what you think about it.

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  6. Definitely want to see this one - thanks!

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    1. Julie, I think you'll find it as out-of-the-box as I do!

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  7. What a clever metaphor. Kids will get it with no explanation, I suspect.

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    1. I agree, Joanna, on both counts. Thanks for stopping by the Corner!

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  8. Well, this is quite interesting. We have this very book on our shelves and this week as I was wandering around trying to decide which book I would like to do for PPBF, I paused at The Big Box and did a re-read. Then another book jumped out at me asking for some attention, so I turned to it instead. I'm soooo glad that I left The Big Box for you to do! My little brain must have had a feeling that Ms Gruener would be doing the perfect review for this one! Great questions and discussions. Thanks Ms Gruener. This is one of my favorites.

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    1. WoW ... what are the odds of that, Rhythm? I think it's waaaaaay cool that you like this book, too. I found some reviewers who didn't really like it, which I found strange. I just decided yesterday that it'd be this one today; maybe you Jedi Forced it to be!

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  9. I have to admit, you have me wondering how this story plays out. I guess that's what libraries are for! Thanks for the review.

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    1. My pleasure, Joanne. You know, I'm not entirely sure I remember the ending at the moment because it's what happened inside-the-box and why they were put there in the first place that make such an impression.

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  10. We'll have to check this one out. Thank you.

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    1. I hope you'll find it as rich in food for thought as I do!

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  11. This book sounds like a must read for parents and teachers alike. We do tend to stifle self expression and creativity. I like the way you have suggested discussions and lawyer type debates on what good and bad character traits should be allowed.

    I have put this on my list for the library for take out tomorrow. Thanks so much for introducing it to me.

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    1. I don't know why we tend to stifle creativity but, alas, this commentary makes that crystal clear. I hoe that you were able to find a copy!

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I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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