The Cardboard Kingdom
Writers: Chad Sell, Jay Fuller, Davis DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Kris Moore, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, Barbara Perez Marquez
Artist: Chad Sell
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 5 June 2018
A review by Brooke Ali
I have fond memories of my childhood in a small town, where the summer days belonged to us kids and the whole neighbourhood became the backdrop to our play world. Everything from group engineering projects to clashes with bullies occupied our days until the streetlights came on and our mothers started calling us home for dinner. If that was (or is) your childhood, then you’ll instantly connect with Chad Sell’s The Cardboard Kingdom, where sixteen neighbourhood kids use their imaginations, and a lot of cardboard, to create a world all their own.
I love that there is a growing genre of coming-of-age graphic novels for young readers and The Cardboard Kingdom is a bright, beautiful, engaging addition to this group. Illustrated by Sell and written and illustrated by Sell and his collaboration of writers, each writer brought to the project their own unique memories and experiences of childhood. This brings diversity to the stories that make up these kids’ summer, providing almost any reader with something to relate to, whether its bullying, parental expectations, or questioning one’s sexuality.
The main, overarching theme of the book is imagination and self expression. Each of these kids is figuring out who they are and how they want to present themselves to the world. The book starts out with a brother and sister playing a game of Sorceress and her minion, with the role of Sorceress being enthusiastically acted out by the brother. When a girl next door spots them over the fence, the brother becomes self conscious of being seen in his mother’s robe and high heels, and flees. When he decides to embrace his favourite character, the siblings invite their neighbour to come play, as the damsel in distress. But she’s not having that; she wants to be a knight, sworn enemy of the evil Sorceress! These kinds of issues are seen throughout the book, children being confronted with the normative expectations of their gender/race/temperament/etc. and choosing to either embrace or reject them, but always doing so freely and on their own terms.
Sell’s art style couldn’t be a better fit for this book. The bright colours and whimsical style fit the mood and characters perfectly. It’s revealed in the book that one of the children, The Scribe, has been chronicling the neighbourhood adventures, and each story is fronted by a title page that looks like it was drawn by him. Sell also uses a slightly different art style to depict the children in their fantasy world and the real world, which has a wonderful effect of drawing the reader into their imaginations and how they see themselves.
Buy it! Not only is The Cardboard Kingdom a delightful read, but it’s an important book for any young person figuring out who they are and how they want to fit into the world. This is definitely a book I’ll be buying for my own kids when they’re old enough to read it (and need it). If you do buy it for your kids, make sure to give it a read yourself, you won’t regret it.