The Nowhere Box, from debut author/illustrator Sam Zuppardi, is an invigorating tribute to the power of a child’s imagination. In it, we meet George. He has two little brothers, and collectively they ruin his playtime. They deface his painting; the ball in their tossing game lands on his head; they wreck his train tracks; and they follow him everywhere.
But have no fear! The delivery man is here, bringing a box mammoth enough to deliver the family’s new dryer. Anyone who’s ever been in the same room with a child and a cardboard box of any size knows the magnetic pull these boxes possess. But extra-large boxes are special and allow for particularly inventive play.
Better yet, this box actually hides George, who slips inside and enters Nowhere. It’s a rousing land of sea, sky and coaster. In multiple spreads, Zuppardi lets George’s imagination run wild, and it’s here that he introduces actual cardboard into his mixed media illustrations, making readers want to touch the pages. The roller coaster track and ocean waves are composed of cardboard strips, and these thick pieces bring a rough-hewn, concrete quality to George’s inner world.
Zuppardi’s loose, energetic lines and primarily full-bleed spreads bring us George’s highs and lows—his manic glee in escaping his siblings and, when the book opens, his despair at their intrusions. There’s a certain level of hyperbole at work here that is very funny. For one, any time George sulks in the book’s opening, he flourishes a large, exaggerated frown with one simple line, one that nearly covers the whole bottom half of his face, not unlike a child might draw. It’s all or nothing for George, who’s having one emotional roller-coaster of a day. And even the middle of Nowhere, it turns out, is no fun without little brothers who can be enemy pirates.
If The Nowhere Box is any indication, Zuppardi’s career is going somewhere. I look forward to what he brings readers next.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.