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Bigger than a Bread Box: Laurel Snyder

Book: Bigger than a Bread Box
Author: Laurel Snyder
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

I love Laurel Snyder's writing. Good night, laila tov is one of my family's favorite bedtime stories, and I've reviewed both Any Which Wall and Penny Dreadful. I've been meaning to read Laurel's Bigger than a Bread Box for ages, having purchased a copy when it came out in paperback. But when the companion novel, Seven Stories Up, arrived on my doorstep, I finally brought Bigger than a Bread Box to the top of the pile. [Full disclosure, I'm Facebook friends with Laurel, and spent time with her at Kidlitcon a few years back, but I am certain that I would enjoy her books just as much without this connection.]

Bigger than a Bread Box is told from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Rebecca Shapiro. Rebecca lives in Baltimore with her parents and her two-year-old brother, Lew. Until, that is, her mother packs up Rebecca and Lew and moves to Atlanta, leaving their unemployed father behind. Bigger than a Bread Box is about Rebecca's fury at her mother for breaking up their family, her adjustment to a new middle school, and her gradual realization of her brother's importance to her. There's also a magical bread box that has unexpected consequences.

Despite the presence of the magical bread box, Bigger than a Bread Box has a much more realistic feel than Snyder's previous novels. The family dynamics are the point - the magic is more of a device. An afterword explains that Snyder mined her own experience as a child of divorce in writing Bigger than a Bread Box. I think this genuine emotion comes through successfully, and than any child experiencing parental separation will find something to relate to in Rebecca's experience. Like this scene, in which Rebecca is trying to remind Lew about their father:

"Lew started humming, and I wondered if any of this mattered. None of that would add up to Dad for Lew, if he'd already started to forget. Dad would just sound like some guy, some noisy, short, skinny guy who liked fishy pizza. That wasn't Dad any more than home was just boarded-up row houses and seagulls and snowball stands." (Page 101, paperback)

I must admit that I almost wanted to stop reading about half-way through the book, when the price that Rebecca was going to have to pay for the magic became clear. The middle school dynamics, while not the central point of the book, are still authentic enough to resonate painfully. Kids who have sacrificed their authenticity on the altar of "cool" may be able to relate to this, too. 

Rebecca isn't perfect. She makes mistakes, is materialistic about certain things, and is pretty harsh to her mother. But she has redeeming qualities, of course, like an appreciation for poetry. My favorite thing about Rebecca, hands down, is her affection for her brother, and her gradual recognition of him as a person in his own right. There's a point in which she thinks about trying to go back to Baltimore on her own, but realizes that she could never leave Lew behind, and I liked her for that. (Interesting contrast to Eleanor of Eleanor and Park, though the two girls are in very different situations.)

Snyder touches on Rebecca's half-Jewish identity with a light touch. She also includes various nods to people who love books, as Rebecca does. She brings a slightly heavier hand to the topic of the lack of appreciation that mothers can feel. Like this quote from Rebecca's mother:

"I am juggling so much and I am overworked and I just want a little time to think things out for myself. Everyone seems to need something from me or want something, and I don't even know what feels right or wrong anymore, and there are so many people to think about." (Page 145, paperback) 

As a mother myself, I found a scene in which Rebecca is trying to think of a birthday present for her mother, and she realizes that she has no idea what her mother's interests are, sad.

Bigger than a Bread Box is a must-purchase title for elementary and middle school libraries (especially in Baltimore and Atlanta). This nuanced look at divorce and family, as well as middle school social structures, offers something for everyone. The magical element helps to keep things light, while also adding some insights about accountability. Recommended!

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: September 2011
Source of Book: Bought it

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