Her hair fell into her face and she hunched over, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth, fingering an LED light and a strip of copper tape. The cardboard car sat stubbornly askew on the tabletop. She moved silently, in tiny increments, only pausing to wipe her hand on her skirt or tuck her hair behind her ear. Suddenly, she screamed. “I DID it!” she cried, fists pumping over her head. “My car has HEADLIGHTS!”
When I read Doug TenNapel’s graphic novel Cardboard, I knew I had found something special. The book centers around Cam, a good-natured boy living with his father, Mike, who is struggling to make ends meet. After the recent death of Cam’s mother, he and Mike are mourning quietly and having trouble moving on. Out of work and down on his luck, the only gift that Mike can afford for Cam’s birthday is a lousy cardboard box. Looking to make the most out of the gift, Cam and Mike stay up all night turning the box into something amazing – only to discover that the cardboard is magical and anything created with it will come to life. But magic like that can’t stay a secret for long. What starts as an innocent adventure turns dangerous as the cardboard falls into the wrong hands – leaving the reader to wonder, what would I do with a piece of magical cardboard? Would I use my powers for good? Or…. In fact, it left me more than just wondering. I spent the rest of the day putting boxcutter to cardboard, using basic tools to bring my imagination to life. I sent a text to Mr. Passmore, sixth grade English teacher: “I’ve got our next book club idea. Start saving your cardboard.”
I announced our Cardboard MakerSpace Book Club using this video at a school-wide Monday Meeting. The crowd gasped when they realized that we would be meeting discuss a graphic novel – and then their jaws dropped even farther when I told them that we would be combining our book club with a MakerSpace! Right away, cardboard started disappearing from the stack of materials in the library display, Post-its started popping up on the Makerspace Book Club display board, and pieces of projects started to build on my desk. A warrior! A ukulele! An aquarium with fish that really moved!
The next step might have been my favorite. The week of the big event, Ms. Wilkens,
Computer Science specialist extraordinaire, and I hosted two before-school MakerSpace opportunities for students to bring their projects and add tech pieces like MakeyMakey and LED lights to take their projects to the next level. Students started their projects at home and then brought them for help finishing details or making them extra special. Older students from the Computer Science Studio leant a hand to sixth grade makers and took projects from impressive to extraordinary. It was incredible watching students take their ideas and make them reality. Thanks to Ms. Wilkens and her team, students were inspired and empowered to get their hands dirty and experiment with tech tools that may have seemed too scary to attempt before. What’s one LED light when you’ve already created an entire car out of cardboard? There is nothing as empowering as successfully completing something you never dreamed you could. As a bonus? It was really fun!
For the main event, students met in the library during break and lunch time to show off their creations and discuss how Cardboard inspired them to get creative and “think outside the box”. We started things off with a Maker Faire, showing off all of our amazing creations and leaving Post-It feedback on each other’s projects. I loved reading the supportive comments that students left from each other – from simple comments like “This is so realistic!” and “Wow, this is amazing!” to more thoughtful notes like “I can tell you spent so much time on this!” and “Creative and beautiful, just like you!”
To finish, we broke into smaller discussion groups and answered Cardboard-themed questions over pizza. Each discussion group got one cardboard box filled with questions. They passed the box around pulling one question at a time to keep the discussion going. Questions included topics like the plot, format, and characters in the book, as well as more personal questions. My favorites included the following:
- Why did author Doug TenNapel choose to tell this story in graphic novel form
instead of as a regular novel? Would it be better as a traditional novel? What about a movie?
- Characters in this story change and “learn their lesson” very quickly. Is this realistic? Do people really change that fast?
- The story begins with Cam receiving a cardboard box from his father for his birthday. What is the best gift you have ever received?
- Did the artwork change the way that you felt about the characters? What if Marcus had looked more like Cam?
I know that I say this after every book club, but I really mean it – this was the best book discussion I have heard all year. Although Cardboard was a quick read, many students connected with the story in a unique and meaningful way. It was a treat to hear them discussing graphic novels so deeply, thanks to the graphic novel unit that Mr. Passmore and I have been working through with sixth grade for the past few months (more on that later). The students were all in overwhelming agreement – making stuff is fun, graphic novels tell amazing stories, and Doug TenNapel is a boss (their words, not mine).
This book club was a wonderful opportunity for students to draw inspiration from a book that they loved to go above and beyond and create something special. It was so exciting to see and hear about the projects over the course of the month. By linking the book to a hands-on project unique to the imagination of each reader, this book club brought Cardboard to life in a way that was engaging and memorable. They read deeply, thought critically, and fearlessly used their inspiration to try something new. Each student that completed a project had a sense of pride that was so contagious, I’ve already had countless requests to repeat this book club with next year’s sixth grade. I think we’ve got a new cardboard tradition here!
You amazed me this month, Makers. Congratulations on all of your hard work – you should be so proud! I had a blast participating in this Cardboard Makerspace Book Club with you.
Come and check out all of the 6th grade Cardboard MakerSpace projects on display in the library through the end of the week.
Want more book club action? Check out all of our previous book clubs, including a Japanese tea ceremony, DIY book covers, and one very studious soccer game, here.
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