There’s a poignant moment in Chad Sell’s The Cardboard Kingdom, a graphic novel collaboration between Sell and writing friends, in which the father of a character in the book (about the imaginary adventures of a neighborhood of kids) sits down on the bed and admits to an error of judgement.
“Sometimes, it is hard to accept what you don’t understand,” the father tells his son, as an apology.
While this graphic novel, perfect for elementary and middle school students, is a bit heavy-handed at time with its stories of diversity and acceptance, The Cardboard Kingdom has a huge heart, capturing the way kids can invent worlds and accept others into those spaces of play (although sometimes, the path can be a little rough.)
The kingdom of The Cardboard Kingdom is the neighborhood, and Sell uses the art of the graphic novel to transform the kids (the book is broken up into chapters showing different character perspectives) into heroes and villains, with help of discarded cardboard boxes and other items that are refashioned by imagination.
Sell worked with ten other writers to tell the stories, and this range of voices shows. We meet a boy who is drawn to dress in women’s clothes as part of his character, and see his mother grapple with asking questions of sexual orientation (done gracefully). We see a girl struggling against her grandmother’s view of what a girl is expected to be (demure and polite). We see a boy whose father and mother are divorcing and fighting, as he struggles to understand why. We see a bully who is himself being bullied.
There’s a lot going on here in The Cardboard Kingdom but it is all done with grace and love.
Peace (beyond the box),