cover image The Cardboard Kingdom

The Cardboard Kingdom

Chad Sell. Knopf, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5247-1937-1

In his first title for young people, cartoonist Sell offers a story that unfolds in a neighborhood where children make elaborate cardboard costumes that let them try on new personas and powers. Vijay, his older sister Shikha, and their neighbor Sophie experiment first with masks that feature fangs and horns, and their adventures draw in diverse new kids, and issues of gender, class, and culture take center stage. Jack wants to be an evil sorceress; his mother doesn’t mind the gown, but rejects the cruelty. Amanda’s Spanish-speaking father doesn’t want her wearing a mustache (“What would they say back home?”). While the proto-capitalist Alice seems unnecessarily ruthless (“I will get my customers back... and I will crush you”), other characters are drawn with tenderness, including Miguel and Nate, who must balance traditional messages about masculinity with the attraction they feel for each other. Blocky panel artwork adds impact by flipping back and forth between what the kids envision (big monsters, epic battles) and what’s actually happening (cardboard creations buckling under the onslaught of garden hoses). Imagination, these kids prove, can erase what seem like unbridgeable differences. Ages 9–12. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (June)