A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for—as long as it fits inside? It’s too good to be true! Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents’ separation, as well as a sudden move to her Gran’s house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be.
-cover and synopsis courtesy of goodreads.com
Atmospheric Analysis: Bigger than a Bread Box‘s cover is a nice demonstration of how illustrated covers still rule the day in middle grade. This one is cute, but not cloying; girly, but not off-puttingly femme.
Planetary Class: Fantasy. But wait, you might say, am I on the right website?! This is the Intergalactic Academy, home of all things SF!
Well, that’s true, but this MG fantasy is incredibly rules-based, and would have strong appeal to any upper elementary or middle school fan of space ships and time travel.
Mohs Rating: So, like I said, this one is technically fantasy. But it’s surprisingly “hard” fantasy. Under Mohs, it’s a 4.That’s right, a 4. There’s only one big lie here–the bread box–and it follows the laws of physics. Be still my heart!
Planetary Viability: Okay, so there are some speculative works where you know, even as a kid, that the story in question could never happen. Because it’s got unicorns or humanoid aliens or because wishing makes things come true and solves all of our heroine’s problems or whatever. That’s not the case for Bigger than a Bread Box. Rebecca’s world is our world in every respect, and the magical device she finds fits nicely inside of it. If the real world is viable (sometimes, I’ve had my doubts), then this book is viable.
Xenolinguistical Assessment: Chatty, modern, and naturalistic. Think Judy Blume, but with iPods.
Expanded Report: Bigger than a Bread Box might seem to be of a stretch for an Intergalactic Academy review. After all, it’s apparently a fantasy title, not a science fictional one. In a way, this story–about a middle school girl who finds a magical, gift-granting bread box–might see a little typical, too. Like fluffy wish fulfillment, not a story with heft or bite.
But Rebecca Shapiro’s world is far from saccharine. Her dad drives a taxi–or he did, until he wrecked it. Her mom works nights. Rebecca herself is quiet and a little nerdy, but her universe is a fairly secure one. Until one day, when her mother stuffs Rebecca and her baby brother Lew into their car and drives off to her grandmother’s house in Atlanta, leaving Rebecca’s father behind.
Rebecca reacts with very honest adolescent rage at her mother for upsetting daily life. She hides out in her grandmother’s cluttered attic. It’s there that she finds the eponymous bread box, and unwittingly makes her first wish–for a book to read. The core premise here is a bit like the kid’s classic Half Magic. You’ve got kids, and wishes, and the magic only follows very specific rules (in Half Magic, only half of a wish was granted; here, any item wished for must fit in the bread box itself). But thematically, it’s very different from Edward Eager’s tale. Eager’s kids were wishing out of boredom. Soon, Rebecca, thrust into a new school ruled by a spoiled queen bee, is wishing out of desperation: for electronics, for pens and lip glosses to give out at school, and candy to trade at lunch, and fries from the diner back home. She’s essentially trying to plug up the holes in her life with magic. Unsuccessfully, of course. It’s that kind of book. Think Edward Eager meets Louise Fitzhugh.
Like Fitzhugh and her contemporaries, Snyder deals absolutely honestly with the Rebecca and her situation. She’s volatile, rebellious, forgetful, a little selfish, and absolutely sympathetic. She’s also bright. This is as much a novel about embracing your inner geek as it is about magic, and its in exploration of this theme–complete with discussions of the Law of Conservation of Mass and Epicurus–that Bigger than a Bread Box takes on a decidedly SFnal tone.
But the focus remains on Rebecca’s plight, as she attempts to undo the damage that her magic has done and make reparations for her mistakes. The end takes us to some very interesting, unexpected, and affecting places, and in a sense the novel’s conclusion is deliciously open-ended. It hits all the right notes, especially the most important one: honesty.