In volume one of The Cardboard Kingdom, we are introduced to a motley group of kids who create their own world, ranging from sorceress and rogues to gargoyles and princes, in their neighborhood. Told through a series of vignettes, they go on adventures, discover friendships, and navigate their personal worlds using play and imagination.
In Volume 2, The Roar of the Beast, it’s the beginning of the school year and the kids are getting excited for Halloween. Nate discovers one night that there is a monster in the neighborhood and each kid claims that it’s not them and thus, instead of a series of connected vignettes just like in the first volume, they go on separate adventures to find the monster once and for all.
One night, Nate thinks he sees his step-brother, Elijah, going into the garage when Nate notices a monster in their midst. In a rush to save Elijah, Nate breaks his leg. The story commences with residents of The Cardboard Kingdom working together (The Monster Mashers) to find and catch the monster with Nate leading the way, from his front porch, of course. The kids are scared, and rightly so, because the monster is indeed scary. A secondary story features VIjay, The Beast, who is being bullied by the neighborhood teens.
Is the monster real and who is behind it? Will the monster ever stop terrorizing the neighborhood? Will Vijay ever come back as The Beast and leave his bedroom? All the mysteries will be revealed.
While there is not really a backstory to this volume, and you don’t really need to read volume one to get the kids’ personalities, it is helpful if you do. There is a lot of subtext going on that could easily be missed, such as Miguel’s crush on Nate, and Alice’s battle between being a brilliant business woman (her aunt is a lawyer) and her desire to have friends.
The book is perfectly rated for grades 4 – 7 and for fans of Raina Telgemeier and All’s Faire in Middle School. There is a lot to unpack beyond the play and imagination. At first blush, it seems like a pre-teen adventure story, but it is so much more than that. Just like in volume one, readers will learn about relationships and cultures they may not find in their day-to-day lives, such as one-parent families, families of mixed races, first generation immigrants, queer kids, and gender fluidity. This is the perfect time for the kids, as pre-teens are still between the worlds of growing up and childhood.
Chad Sell is again the artist and he brings with him the cadre of writers who worked with him on volume one. Their work together has continuity and the voices are consistent, with a lot of uniformity from one volume to the other. I really liked that writers brought their own experiences and influences which really imbues the kids with personalities.
Even as an adult of a certain age, I love The Carboard Kingdom series and I highly recommend this for pre-teens and adults alike. As Sophie the Big Banshee says, ROWWWRRRR.
The Cardboard Kingdom, vol 2: Roar of the Beast
Art by Chad Sell
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Queer,
Character Representation: Queer, Genderqueer