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Thursday, June 30, 2011

the secret box, illustrated by Barbara Lehman. Houghton Mifflin, Thomas Allen & Son. 2011. $18.99 ages 5 and up

“Times change. Cities may grow large. Summers may come and go. And people might grow old, but the one thing that always remains the same is the desire for adventure.”

These are the only words that describe this amazing new wordless book by the master illustrator/storyteller Barbara Lehman. When she was given an old candy box that had once belonged to an elderly neighbor, it made her wonder how that treasure might connect to 'other people, times and places'. Thus, the premise for a new picture book to delight its audience.

Little is known about the young boy who places a treasure box in the floorboards in the attic of an old building. Obviously, from the first double page spread, it happens in the past. The land surrounding the building has little taking up space. A horse pulls a wagon, there is a train station and train, children do exercises beside the fenced building (which may be an orphanage or a school) and one other house with an outside well is all else that is visible.

As we turn the pages, a town begins to grow. Sidewalks and lampposts are added, as are streetcar tracks, a factory and many houses. As the years pass, the schoolyard is paved and marked with a basketball court, a diner appears, an elevated train and parking meters become part of the landscape.

Then, one day, three boys are seen in that same room...and they find the treasure left there so many years before their arrival. They look carefully at all the artifacts included and find clues to lead them out of the school and on to an adventure that eventually takes them to the Seashore Pier, an amusement park. They eagerly make their way to the entrance, only to find the original boy there to welcome them. He leads them up a ladder to a room filled with many other boys from earlier times. Perhaps, they have all found their way to the pier because of the secret box. Push forward to the future, and we note that two more young children have found what the box holds and they are off on an adventure of their own. What a ride!

Books without text offer a clean slate for young readers to devise their own stories for what is happening in the artwork. They are perfect fare for immigrant students who don't have a working knowledge of a second language to help them read. Books such as this lovely one teach them about 'story' and using your imagination and language to make it your own.

You won't be able to stop at just one reading! It will draw you back again and again. Enjoy!

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