Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder
Random House, 2011 (Available September 27)
Genre: Realistic Fiction with a Magical Element
Face Value: Though there’s sort of a disembodied element here, I actually really like this cover! Yes, part of the face is cut off, but it’s for a reason – we see Rebecca looking through the bread box of the title. Plus I really like that we have a drawn illustration instead of a photograph, and the girl on the cover looks very much like a real little girl, not too old or too glamorous. Totally solid middle grade cover – not too old or too young looking.
Does it Break the Slate? Yeah, it does. Not in an explicit way, because that’s not really what this book is about. But the way Rebecca negotiates her family situation, expresses her anger, takes care of her little brother and ultimately stands up for herself to her parents is totally viable Slatebreaking action.
Who would we give it to? This is a fantastic book for 9-11 year olds, fitting perfectly into the upper end of middle grade without slipping over into young adult. I’d happily hand it over to girls and boys in fourth, fifth and sixth grade. I’d also be the first to hand it over to kids and parents looking for honest depictions of divorce that validate kids’ feelings without offering up easy answers.
Review: Rebecca Shapiro knows things haven’t been going well between her parents. Her dad’s been out of work, her mom is frustrated, she hears a lot of fighting happening after she’s gone to bed. But she’s still totally unprepared when her mom packs up the car with Rebecca and her younger brother Lew and drives them from their family home in Baltimore to Rebecca’s grandmother’s in Atlanta. Rebecca is, obviously, upset by the whole situation and especially furious with her mother for what she sees as refusing to deal with her problems and taking them away from her father and their home. But amidst all of this chaos, Rebecca discovers a magical bread box in her grandmother’s attic. She only has to wish for something and if it fits in the bread box, it will appear. Suddenly she can instantly wish herself an ipod, french fries from her favorite Baltimore restaurant, the perfect present for her mom. It makes everything seem easier. Of course, magic is usually more complicated than it originally appears and ultimately Rebecca has to deal with the fact that even real magic can’t create the solution she’s looking for.
I was really impressed with the way Laurel Snyder successfully blended magic and reality in this story. Honestly, I was a little skeptical when I first read the summary, concerned that the magical elements would either feel like part of a totally different story or oversimplify a complicated issue. It did neither. From this (and from Snyder’s other books) I feel absolutely certain that she read a lot of Edward Eager growing up, because she completely adheres to the magical rules Eager proscribes in his books. Rather than children who find themselves transported to a fantastical world or setting out upon a grand quest, Eager Magic usually involves everyday children who are leading everyday lives encountering magic through some kind of seemingly ordinary object (nickel shaped talisman, for example, or worn out library book). They have to discover the magic, learn the rules, thwart the rules and then face the consequences and ultimately let go of the magic, or pass it along to the next person. Bigger than a Bread Box plays perfectly by this magical structure, and it serves the story terrifically well. As readers, we can see how the magic becomes a temporary healing for Rebecca, and how it’s not going to last. And this is true for all kinds of things when people deal with crisis situations. We find things that make us feel better, but until you deal with your emotions you aren’t actually going to. The magical elements don’t lessen the realism of this story at all. Instead they underscore and enrich it.
From a Slatebreaking perspective, I have to love the way this story gives us three generations of smart, complex, flawed women. Rebecca, her mother and her grandmother are all multifaceted characters who respond honestly to a bad situation in the best way that they can. It would be easy to make Rebecca’s mom the villain of the story – after all she’s the one who left, the one who put her daughter in this situation. But we get to empathize with her as well, seeing her struggle with her decisions and trying to make things ok for her kids while still figuring out what she needs for herself. Rebecca’s Gram is dynamic and supportive – I love that we got to see her taking Rebecca and her mother’s side over the course of the book. And best of all, we really see Rebecca grow up over the course of the book. She makes a lot of bad decisions, and has to deal with the repercussions. But by the end of the book, she’s able to articulate her feelings and her needs to her parents, and advocate for herself and her little brother. As an adult reader, I couldn’t help but be proud of her by the end of the book.
This book is an honest and painful story about divorce. That means that sometimes it’s hard to read because this family’s pain radiates off the page. But everybody’s actions, emotions and responses resonated deeply with me. Anger and Love and Sadness and Wanting come through in pretty much every interaction the characters have with each other. And yet – this book isn’t devastating. It’s hopeful. I don’t want to ruin things for you, but I will say that I was happy with the ending. We don’t necessarily know what is going to happen for this family, but you do get the sense that they are back on the road to being all right, whatever that’s going to end up meaning. Which is, I think, a really beautiful thing.
Reviewed from ARC won in a contest on Sarah Prineas’s blog. Thank you Sarah!