I buried my face deeper into the pillow and mumbled into it, so that nobody would hear me, “I wish I were home. I wish I were home. I wish I were home.” But of course wishing wouldn’t make it so (p 37).
Moments later, one of Rebecca’s wishes comes true and she finds a pair of squawking gulls inside the breadbox – the one she found in her gran’s attic. She soon discovers that she can wish for anything and it will appear, as long as it exists and as long as it can fit inside the breadbox. Bereft at her parent’s abrupt separation and miles away from her father and her home in Baltimore, she uses her wishes, at first, for material things that make her feel better or garner her lots of friends at school. But it isn’t long before she realizes the breadbox can’t give her what she really wants, her family and her home just like it used to be.
Bigger than a Breadbox is an excellent middle grade book that takes seemingly incongruous things – a contemporary story about the breaking of a household set to classical prose and propelled by fantasy embodied in an obsolete item (a breadbox) – and weaves them together easily, naturally. Let’s discuss what this novels does so well.
There is a strong sense of place. Though Rebecca’s emigration from Baltimore, MD to Atlanta, GA happens early on in the novel, we revisit the home she misses so much through the treats she wishes and through her remembrances. Reader’s can also compare gritty Baltimore to the cleaner Atlanta as Rebecca walks to school and travels solo via cab at the conclusion.
Fantasy that Reads like Realistic Fiction
At one point in your life, you’ve probably fantasized about what you would wish for if a djinni rose out of a magic lamp. I’ve done this many times. When Rebecca has the opportunity to have her wishes granted (with the compulsory strings attached), she follows a path to enlightenment many preceding stories have followed. Only, it doesn’t feel like reading fantasy. And it’s not like any other story because it is Rebecca’s story and not a story about magic. (A good fantasy author never allows the magical elements to overrun the story.) Like When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, this story will have a strong crossover appeal because it seamlessly includes magic in a strong realistic setting.
Crisp, clean prose. Coming in at 223 pages (with large lettering), this book is the appropriate length for its audience. It is neither too verbose nor too fancy. No tricks here. Just good wholesome prose where words are not wasted but, rather, put to work.
Rebecca is well-developed. She comes to conclusions in her own time and her development accurately reflects the thought processes of a middle school child. Her classmates are painted in broad strokes but they are not marginalized. They have a real impact on Rebecca, as peers always do. The tension between her parents is palpable. And while it may seem easy to blame her mother, Snyder makes it clear the father is not blameless. Instead, it takes a lot of energy to raise a family and unemployment can hit families very hard, making this a timely story as well. Rebecca’s grandmother is another well-drawn character, who takes sides with Rebecca but works subtly to build bridges.
BUT… is it distinguished?
And that is the question. Is it a great book? Yes. It is written well? Yes, very well. Is it enjoyable? Yes. Is it distinguished? … But let’s not get too wrapped up in the Newbery. This is a book many children will love.
Library copy | September 27, 2011 | Random House | 240 pages | Ages 9-12 | ISBN 978-0375969164 | $16.99