Outside, Inside, and All Around the Box

An idea occurred to me a couple of days ago that suggested a possibility for a mini-series of blogposts. Because I wanted to play with the idea a bit, and to provide some added value to my blog during the current Comment Challenge, I’ll be posting “bonus” posts on the days I don’t usually post for the next few weeks.

The idea is to take the title of a book, and find a writing tip within it. Specifically using titles of books other than writing-craft books as a springboard for musings about the writing process.

The title that got me thinking was Not a Box, by Antoinette Portis.

In many situations in life, we’re challenged to “think outside the box.” Writing, and especially writing for kids, challenges us to think outside, inside, and all around the box.

The premise of Not a Box is that with the imagination, a simple cardboard box becomes many things – definitely not a box. The rabbit protagonist of the story gets quite annoyed when people keep referring to his race car, howdah, ship, mountain peak as a box when it’s NOT a box! Children’s imaginations can make a blanket over two toppled chairs into a tent or a cave; a line of chairs in the kitchen becomes a train; a gap in the trees becomes a house. Adult’s imaginations, too, can see when something is not a box, although sometimes it’s more difficult for us. An adult with a working imagination can look at a wardrobe filled with dusty fur coats, and see the entrance to a magical wintry kingdom; or can see a mouse skitter through a backstage dressing room and imagine an entire theatrical troupe of mice in the theatre basement.

As writers, we need to look at the ordinary and “stand it on its head” as an acquaintance would say. We need to stretch our imaginations beyond the standard way of looking at things, and push ourselves to think outside the box, inside the box (have you ever wondered how the can of salmon on the very bottom of the box feels?) and all around the box.

Have you stretched your imagination today?


Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, Net Wt. 11.5 oz, a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book, is published by Harper Collins, 2007, and is available at a bookstore near you.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, was first published in 1950 and is still in print and available in many editions. Click here to try a quiz on the book.

The Great American Mousical by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton really was inspired by a mouse Julie saw backstage in a theatre on Broadway — her imagination delights in “what if” questions, such as “what if the mice in the theatre basement had their own theatre? and they put on a musical revue?”. Although it is currently out of print, it is well worth a search of www.abebooks.com or a similar source. Click here for coloring pages by the illustrator, Tony Walton (Emma’s dad).

14 thoughts on “Outside, Inside, and All Around the Box”

  1. Hi Beth! I like your idea of searching for a writing tip from a book title. Can’t wait to see what you discover. Also, THANK YOU for posting my blog New Beginnings on your list of Colleagues In Writing. I think that this is the first time someone has officially added me to their roll call…I’m honored and hope to never disappoint! ;0)

    1. Hi, Donna! I’ve been having fun seeing where book titles can take my imagination! And I’m honored that I’m the first to add you to my list — your blog is definitely worth shouting about!

  2. Someone had more than just porridge for breakfast this morning! What an excellent idea Beth! Love the take on Not A Box , now you are giving us something to think about, especially for picture books, it could turn what would be quite a bland story into something rather quirky and fun. Thankyou…. walks off thinking!
    One question is this mini blogpost for anyone to join in? And how long is it running for?

    1. Glad to give you food for thought, Diane!

      This miniseries is just a little enhancement for my blog-launch month, and to give added value for folks that might visit during the Comment Challenge hosted by MotherReader and Lee Wind. It will run on the days I don’t regularly post — so Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday for the month of January. I hadn’t really thought of others joining in, just saw it as a way to launch my own blog.

    1. Yes, that’s what I’m saying, and that’s what people mean by “think outside the box.” But now you’ve got me wondering WHY that means thinking in a different way.

  3. Beth – Finding inspiration in ‘less likely’ places is a hallmark of creative folks -cool idea to select book titles as your touch points. I’m looking forward to reading what you discover!

    p.s. My husband always said that we should just buy our kids the boxes and skip the toys! Those Lego-wielding kidlets grew up to be professional writers & designers!

    (found you through MotherReader & Lee Wind’s Comment Challenge)

    **Katy Manck
    Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at http://BooksYALove.blogspot.com
    Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

    1. Here’s to boxes and Lego!

      So glad you visited, and I hope you’ll be back. I’m popping over to “your place” right now.

  4. This is so true! And something I find so hard to do! I often marvel at other writers’ work, thinking, wow – that’s so simple and perfect…. but I would never have thought of it! Maybe I should try standing on my head 🙂

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