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Fantastic action-meets-existentialism graphic novel.

What parents need to know

Educational value

References to Plato, toys being made in China, and the villain being "bipolar" offer opportunities for more mature and curious kids to explore more about their world.

Positive messages

Strong positive messages about redemption, the value of time over money, loyalty, and the importance of feeling loved and included. Also, when you don't follow rules, there are serious consequences.

Positive role models

Cam is a trusting and loving boy who is able to offer forgiveness and second chances. He's  respectful and patient with his father. The dad isn't perfect -- he's out of work, grieving his wife, doubtful of his abilities, and awkward with a potential love interest. But he, as well as his cardboard surrogates, fight hard for his son's well being. The villain is awful, but is redeemed in the end. Tina is fairly stereotypical, cooking food for Mike and cleaning up after him (though she's no doormat).


Lots of fantasy action with cardboard creatures who argue, chase, punch, and threaten the main characters, who are kids. A few weapons -- a rocket gun and a "nuke" -- are used in self-defense against cardboard creatures. "Bad" creatures threaten with sharp blades and in one scene cut a "good" cardboard guy. A few cardboard creatures, whom we have come to care for, are destroyed.


The neighbor Tina flirts with the dad and she gets frustrated when her advances are rejected. One panel shows the dad and neighbor about to kiss.


Frequent name calling and some teasing -- mostly by the villain kid: "idiot," "freak," "stupid," "screw-up," and "shut up."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Cardboard is a fabulous graphic novel with lots of action sequences, a vicious bully, and references to a mother's death. The somber tone throughout much of the story may not work for all kids, and there are hints of edgier topics like unemployment, loneliness, and adult romance, but most kids will glaze over these issues and focus on the wild images and fantastic idea of building living creatures out of cardboard.

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What's the story?

Broke and unemployed carpenter Mike brings home the \"worst present in the history of birthdays\" to his son Cam -- a giant CARDBOARD box. After son and father work together to build a boxer named Bill out of the cardboard, they are surprised to find that he comes alive. Soon Cam is building all sorts of tiny creatures out of the scraps, even a model of his deceased mother. But when the neighborhood bully -- a spoiled rich kid -- finds out that Cam has a cooler toy than he has, he steals the cardboard away and ends up building himself into a major mess. He'll need forgiveness from Cam and the power of Mike and Bill to rescue him.

Is it any good?


At times poignant and sweet, Cardboard is mostly packed with action that's highlighted by TenNapel's cartoony illustrations. Eyes bulge, fists loom large, and sound effects go "crash!" and "boom!" and "pow!" Even with the specter of a deceased mom and an unemployed dad, kids will revel in the fantasy of creatures made out of cardboard who come to life.

The villain, Marcus, who resembles the toy-torturing neighbor of the first Toy Story movie, is incredibly mean and rude. But as his mean creations rise up to destroy him, he looks deep within his psyche, confronts his flaws, and with the help of Cam's friendship, finds redemption. The interactions between fathers and sons are especially tender, and will have a deeper meaning for adults.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about bullies. What are some of the reasons Marcus is a bully? Do you think these reasons are true for all bullies? How do you handle someone who is teasing or bothering you or a friend?

  • Find a cardboard box and make something. What supplies do you need? What will you build?

  • What makes a graphic novel different from a regular novel? A comic book? Find a few other graphic novels to read and compare them with this one.

Book details

Author:Doug Tennapel
Illustrator:Doug Tennapel
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Monsters, ghosts, and vampires
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:August 1, 2012
Number of pages:288
Available on:Paperback, Hardback

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