Everyone knows that the most powerful toy in the world, the one that can do the most things, isn’t the iphone5–it’s a cardboard box. As an all-purpose game, time-travel machine and comfort space, a box is hard to beat. There are several books for younger kids about the pleasures of cardboard adventures (most notably Not a Box by Antoinette Portis) but now comes a book for slightly older readers about the comfort and reassurance of having a box–and a space–of your own.
The Quiet Place, written by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small, is a collection of letters from Isabel, a girl who has moved from Mexico to the United States with her family in 1957. Isabel writes to her Aunt Lupita about missing the sounds of Spanish, seeing snow for the first time, being nervous about starting school in English and most of all, her quest to find a ‘quiet place’. With the help of her older brother and father, Isabel builds her own quiet place out of cardboard boxes, given by the families her mother makes birthday cakes for. As the quiet place grows, so does Isabel’s confidence, until by the end of the book, she has invited new friends into her quiet place and it is no longer quiet.
Stewart’s text is concise and full of quiet energy. Her details are perfect, giving clues to Isabel’s feelings in little ways, such as the shift in her sign off to each letter, when ‘Missing you’ turns into ‘Wishing you were here’. Small’s artwork is colorful without being overwhelming, the end pages showing Isabel’s home in Mexico, with the landscape so different from the cold, grey north. Several pages show views of Isabel working on her quiet place from different angles and her immersion in her safe world is palpable. The final open-out pages of the party guests enjoying the quiet place is a celebration of creativity and the immigrant’s memories of home. I guarantee that everyone who reads this book will want to pick up a box and some markers to create a ‘quiet place’ of their own.
The Quiet Place, by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99