Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Secret Box by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Joan Sandin

This is a somewhat serious little book about a young girl, intent on having something of her very own, learning to respect other people's property as their own. Anne-Marie is a very busy older sibling, looking after her siblings, and doing a lot chores for her busy parents. Since she doesn't have much time to herself, she feels strongly about having something to herself and starts a secret box to store her treasures. 

Anne-Marie and her best friend, Vanessa on their way to school.

The secret box started out with beautiful buttons and a class picture, but was added to as Anne-Marie found things on the sidewalks of New York. 

Her parent's love her, but are so busy, they can be a bit short with her and expect a lot from her. 

Looking after her two little sisters, Rosa and Diana.

But at night, she gets out her secret box, which no one can know about, and has some time of her own to admire her treasures. 

She keeps her eyes pealed for things to add to her box. Unfortunately, she doesn't understand yet that people might be attached to their things as well. She sees her teacher's double sided pencil for correcting papers and thinks how lovely it would look in her secret box, so takes it. 

However pretty the pencil looks, Anne-Marie loves her teacher and worries what he will think of her for taking the pencil. She is quiet and dejected over breakfast. 

But when she gets to school, Mr. Freeman, her teacher, has another double sided pencil and doesn't seem to know or care that she took it. 

On the way to gym, Anne-Marie reacts to a boys teasing and is forced to sit out for the whole gym period.

Anne-Marie is mad. After sending mad looks to her teacher and the boy who teased her, she starts looking around. 

She sees a pencil case with a beautiful ring. Since Mr, Freeman's pencil went unnoticed, Anne Marie decides having the ring would make her feel better about sitting out. 

She tucks it in her sneaker until she gets home to her secret box. 

Enjoying the ring, although she is interrupted by her little sister. 

The next day, Vanessa is distraught because her ring has gone missing. Anne Marie feels like a stone has fallen into her stomach. 

It is a miserable walk home in the rain. 

The next morning, she gets to school early and slips the ring in Vanessa's desk. As she walks to the pencil sharpener, she is tempted by some crisp green play money on a boy's desk. How nice it would look in her secret box! But then she remembers how upset Vanessa was about losing her ring and decides the boy might be just as attached to his play money and leaves the play money alone. 

Vanessa finds the ring and thinks she simply misplaced it.

Throughout the book, Anne Marie is never found out. She doesn't have to face punishment beyond the weight of her own conscience. Because of that, this book feels much more realistic. Anne Marie is a very likable, hard working girl. It is so easy to understand her longing for something of her very own. You sympathize with her, even as she is pocketing Mr. Freeman's pencil. (Who didn't long for one of those two sided pens teachers used for correcting papers?) As Anne Marie comes to the realization that taking things for her very own is negatively affecting her best friend, she learns empathy. Having a shiny ring in her treasure box to admire all by herself, is not worth as much to her as her friend's happiness. 

The adult in me wishes she had put Mr. Freeman's pencil back as well, but her keeping the pencil definitely gives kids something to think about. Is stealing okay if it doesn't really bother the person you stole from? This is a philosophical question that is good for kids to think about. Is wrong wrong, even if no one knows or cares? 

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