Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book #329: The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman

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Take a wordless adventure though time in this intriguing adventure of secret maps in secret boxes hidden in secret hiding places. It all begins when a boy many years ago hides a secret box in the attic of a school for boys in the country. Time passes and the school finds itself in the middle of a bustling city. It seems that the secret box has been forgotten until the day three school children find the box in the secret hiding place in the attic. They find photographs and maps with red arrows, torn tickets, and a token with a seahorse. What does it mean? Will they be able to follow such an old map? And what will they find when they arrive?

The illustrations in this small, square book are bright and bold. Outlined in thick black lines, Lehman’s illustrations are detailed, yet stylistically simple. The children in the book are diverse with a variety of skin colors and hair types/styles. Lehman does not denote a specific year for each illustration, but she includes clues to the approximate time period, such as modes of transportation, clothing, and technology, such as telephone lines, traffic lights, and cable antennas. Spoiler Alert: The conclusion is a bit fantastical. Somehow all the children who have ever followed the clues in the secret box are at the final destination and they are still young, even the boy who originally hid the box so many years ago. Although this time-bending ending doesn’t fit with the realistic depiction of the city, it does emphasis the timelessness of the secret box. Make sure to look at the endpapers for a sneak preview of the contents in the secret box.

Check out the suggestions for using this book with K-8 on the Classroom Bookshelf blog. I especially like the idea of having kids illustrate the items they would hide in a secret box and the discussion questions about the open ending of the book.

For preschool kids, pair this book with other titles that focus on maps and finding treasure, such as The Once Upon a Time Map Book and Roxaboxen.

Tie this in with middle grade books for older kids that have maps on the endpapers, use your favorite novel with a map or use a classic, such as The Phantom Tollbooth or The Wonderful Wizard ofOz.

Have a wordless book themed storytime. Try pairing it with one of Lehman’s other wordless books, Sector 7 (or one of David Wiesner’s other books), The Adventures of Polo, Shadow (or one of Suzy Lee’s other titles) or Where’s Walrus?

Create a Secret Box program around this book. Create a map and other wordless clues and put them in a box. Have the kids work in teams of 3 or 4 to figure out the clues and find the party at the end. You can do this activity indoors or outdoors, just make sure all groups are supervised on their adventure. If you’re working with teens and depending on the size/safety of your neighborhood, you could make the adventure much longer and more complex.

Check at your local library to see if you can find old maps of your city. Have kids compare the maps from different time periods. What landmarks are still standing? Can you find pictures of the landmark in different time periods and compare them?
For a glimpse of the illustrations inside this book, check out the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog.



  1. I enjoyed your review. I found this book at a garage sale and plan to have quiet time with my grandchildren (5 & 2) with it. If I ever just have the older child overnight or both when they are older the map activity to locate a secret treasure of say 'cookies' would take a little planning but I think it would be a very fun time for all.

    1. Jules, I love the idea of a secret cookie treasure hunt! I agree, that would be a very fun time for all. Happy reading!