The Treasure Box
Written by Margaret Wild / Published by Penguin Random House 2013
From two of our most talented picture-book creators comes this celebration of things that can't be destroyed by bombs or fire. A haunting and beautiful tale of the power of words, the importance of stories and the resilience of the human spirit.
As war rages, Peter and his father flee their home, taking with them a treasure box that holds something more precious than jewels. They journey through mud and rain and long cold nights, and soon their survival becomes more important than any possessions they carry.
But as the years go by, Peter never forgets the treasure box, and one day he returns to find it...
To see how I created the illustrations for this book visit the related blog page here.
The enemy bombs the library, and Peter’s father saves a beloved book in an iron box just before his people are forced to flee the war in his country.
Hard conditions cause illness, including in Peter’s father. He asks Peter to take care of the book. Peter honors his wish and takes it with him, and as the road gets harder, he even leaves his suitcase to hold onto the book. On reaching the mountains, the iron box becomes too heavy for him to carry, so he buries it under a tree and carries on. Years later, when it’s safe, he returns to dig up the book and place it in the new library to be read by others. Wild’s story is touching and purposefully vague about the country at war, which underscores how many different cultures have been affected by armed conflict. Though avid readers know that books are precious, that this one contains the history of a people uprooted by war makes it more precious, and its existence makes it impossible to erase the culture, as often happens in war. Softly penciled and cut-out paper illustrations by Blackwood have a beautiful, muted feel, and she uses snippets of the texts of children’s books in various languages—Spanish, Slovenian, Hungarian, and Italian among them—as background textures, to striking effect. The characters are white, driving home the truth that not all refugees are poor and brown.
A poignant and accessible story about the importance of the survival of a people’s history as well as of the people themselves. Excellent. (Picture book. 5-8)
The serenity of Freya Blackwood’s beautiful illustrations belies the sobriety of the subject matter in this poignant story. War has displaced Peter and his father, and as they flee, the only treasure they can take with them is a much-loved book. It is their talisman for hope and survival. Alas, it does not protect them from further heartbreak.
Returning to the city of his youth as a grown man, where peace has now been restored and buildings rebuilt, Peter seeks to recover the book so that it can be once again appreciated and loved. Hopefully the book that his father held so dear will be waiting.
Blackwood uses a montage of paper techniques in her pictures that highlights the fragility of the narrative, yet also its strength and hope. Their ethereal quality lifts the emotional impact of Margaret Wild’s moving story. The Treasure Box is a gentle exploration of the devastation of war and the resilience of vulnerable people to survive with dignity and belief.
For ages 7 and up.
Alexa Dretzke is a Children’s & YA Book Specialist at Readings Hawthorne.