The treasure box by Margaret Wild

cover image

Ill. by Freya Blackwood. Penguin, 2013. ISBN 978 0 670 07365 8
(Age: 6+) Highly recommended. Picture book. Reading. Children in war. From the stunning cover to the words which follow Peter's journey from his war disrupted home to a new life, returning to retrieve the treasure box left him by his father, this book will resonate with all readers, young and old. Shadows of stories of people seeking refuge, of disrupted lives, of people fleeing their homes, of leaving all they love; crowd behind this tale, as Peter digs up the treasure box, buried for safe keeping years before.
All the while, the background begs the reader to touch each page, wondering at the three dimensional images presented by Freya Lockwood. Her illustrations from cut out paper, fill the pages, giving a shadowy effect to the story, impelling the reader to look behind the words at the people and their lives as they trudge away from war, die on the road to safety, find refuge in a new country, but still have ties to their homeland.
The first double page presents a bombed street, showing that the library has been bombed. Over the page pieces of pages from books float across the paper, as we see Peter's father has the one book that survived, the one he loved to read. As each page is turned, the muted colours contrast with the bright red colour of the cover of the book, shown to the son, kept safely in a box, and then passed on to Peter as father dies. The little figures of the refugees huddled into their blankets along the road is just one of the many haunting images presented in this book. In a new city, Peter grows up, eventually returning to the town and the tree where he buried the box containing the book. Its importance becomes clear as he places it on the library shelves where others will be able to borrow and read it.
Blackwood's use of smaller images against which a cut out is placed draws the eye in to look more closely at each image: her use of the floating pieces of paper remind us of the indiscriminate nature of war, the sepia colours of the houses and villages passed by the refugees underline the displacement of so many people, her contrasting images of the town and countryside when Peter is seeking refuge and when he returns an older man, reflect the ephemeral nature of war and that people survive, as do stories, the developing colour reflecting people's optimism and hope for the future. Blackwood has used torn pages from translated versions of Gleitzman's Once series, and Hartnett's The Silver Donkey, to fill the endpapers, using these again as the sky and some of the foreground in the book.
For teachers looking at the impact of war on children, of the importance of story and books, of passing on stories form one generation to another, of resilience and determination, then this is a stand out contribution to the books read in the classroom.
Fran Knight