Outside the Box

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Outside the Box Book Poster Image
Irreverent collection offers mind-opening poems for kids.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Quite a few poems are about animals and distinctive animal characteristics. The collection offers kids different styles of poetry: rhyming and free verse, silly and funny, abstract and contemplative. It also shows the interplay of illustration and text, as well as some very creative typography that winds around, wraps around, or goes upside down in service to a given poem. In one poem about rain, the words are arranged vertically to look like falling raindrops. Now, that's thinking outside the box!

Positive Messages

Subtle message to explore and observe the world around you and think of funny, silly, or meaningful notions and emotions that come to you. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The narrative voice in these poems is a kid's voice, with a kid's emotions and reflections bursting through. Sometimes they're angry, selfish, or brutally honest, such as in "My Lucky Number," when a kid contemplates winning the lottery and concludes, "I'd buy myself a mansion / and my mom a diamond ring. / I'd buy my dad a ton of stuff. / (My sister? Not a thing.)"

Violence & Scariness

Some fears are explored in poems about vampires, werewolves, the Boogie Man, and things that go bump in the night, but in each case the kid appears to conquer. In "Boogie Man," they end up friends and are shown dancing together: "We boogie every night...." There's one two-page spread of trick-or-treaters encountering a vampire and scary-looking ghosts with fangs. The illustration for "The Great, Big, Fat, Disgusting Lie" features a giant, roaring, lion-like beast with dripping fangs, which is a metaphor for the tiny lie a girl told that got bigger: "And now the lie has grown and grown / and taken on a life of its own. / The lie has grown and I have fed it. / How I wish I never said it...."  There's a movie image on a TV screen of a monster with fangs holding a kid in its claw. A poem about riding a roller coaster called "The Great Gargantuan" shows a menacing, serpent-like creature with a big open mouth and scared kids on the ride, and it concludes with the line, "I just can't wait to ride again!"


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Outside the Box by Karma Wilson and fancifully illustrated by Caldecott Honor recipient Diane Goode is a fun, accessible, kid-friendly collection of short poems that has the look and feel of a poetry collection by Shel Silverstein (to whom the book is dedicated). Most are silly, funny, playful, and rhyming. A few are in free verse, showing kids there's a range of poetry styles. Great for reading aloud or alone and, with its short takes and engaging art, a good choice for reluctant readers. 

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What's the story?

OUTSIDE THE BOX offers 88 short poems that reflect a kid's point of view about all manner of things real and imagined: food, animals, siblings, monsters, vampires, weather, bugs, dreams, school, lying, fears -- you name it. Some get at kids' emotions: anger, jealousy, sibling rivalry. Some offer advice, such as in "Shower Songs": "If you ever sing / in the shower, / sing with your head / pointed down. / For it's true, / dontcha know, / it's a bad way to go... / to sing in the shower and drown." Some offer lively wordplay, such as "Horaceopotamus / loved food quite alotomus."

Is it any good?

Outside the Box lives up to its name with playful, imaginative short poems. Most are silly and spunky; some are flippant and flaunt attitude. All are accessible and engaging, boosted by lively pen-and-ink drawings.

It's a great collection to show how poems can capture a feeling or explore an idea, no matter how crazy or irreverent, and see where it goes. It's a good way to get kids to observe and think about the world around them and the limitlessness of their own imaginations. Clever typography aids meaning in some cases, such as when words fall like raindrops in "Rain," swirl down the drain in "Shower Songs," and float upside down in "The Law of Gravity." 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about poetry. How is it different from regular storytelling? Can it be funny or serious? Which do you like better? 

  • Are rhyming stories like the ones in Dr. Seuss books poetry? Do poems always have to rhyme? 

  • Write a poem about something crazy that's not real. Then write a poem about something totally ordinary, such as what you ate for breakfast. Then draw a picture to go with each poem. 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love poetry and art

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