July 27, 2016
Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winters
Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes
by Jeanette Winters
Beach Lane Books
Joseph Cornell roamed his Queens neighborhood looking for a wide variety of found objects — marbles and figurines, scraps of paper and boxes. He took them home where he cared for his brother who had cerebral palsey.
When he wasn’t taking care of his brother he spent hours and hours dreaming, remembering and journaling. Working in his shop in the cellar he assembled a unique type of art. He wasn’t a painter. He wasn’t a sculptor. He created shadow boxes. Many of them depicted things that he remembered seeing as a boy — games in penny arcades, water slide in Coney Island, dancers, soap bubbles and more.
He was a quiet man but he enjoyed sharing his artwork with the children in the neighborhood. He would put together an art show of dream boxes and invite the children. The children would gaze into the boxes, sipping cherry cola and munching on brownies. Hopefully a few of them were inspired to do something that Mr. Cornell loved to do — to dream.
Jeanette Winter’s text is as dreamy as Mr. Cornell and her digital illustrations pull young readers into the story. I love the parallels that she creates between what he remembered from his early life and the art work that he later created. The one thing that I wish had been done differently is that I would have loved to have seen some of the shadow boxes throughout the text. Photographs of a few of them appear in the backmatter but I would love to have had a photographic sidebar running along side the text describing it.
I love that this book is more about dreaming than it is about art. Add to this the fact that it doesn’t make art out to be only sculpture or painting or photography. It honors the shadow box and the man who created so many to share with children.
Share it with your own dreamers, perhaps before a family trip. And then each member of the family could create a shadow box of what they enjoyed most.