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Explorer: The Mystery Boxes edited by Kazu Kibuishi

01/08/2012. Contributed by Aidan Fortune

Buy Explorer: The Mystery Boxes edited in the USA - or Buy Explorer: The Mystery Boxes edited in the UK

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pub: Amulet/Abrams And Chronicle. 127 page graphic novel softcover. Price: 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4197-0009-5).

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What's so special about a box? Created solely to hold something else. If you come across one, the compulsion is to open it no matter what is inside. Every box we come across could potentially contain a mystery for us, despite what is written on the outside.

Boxes are also the subject of 'Explorer: The Mystery Boxes', a collection of children's short comic stories, written by seven different authors and compiled by Kazu Kibuishi. At the heart of each story is a box. Some offer the protagonist something, some challenge them and all of them add a little mystery to their lives.

The opening story, 'Under The Floorboards', sets a dark tone for the collection. A girl finds a box with a wax doll inside which causes trouble for her. Less than ten pages long, it's an eerie tale that Neil Gaiman would be proud of.

Other tales of note include 'The Butter Thief' in which a young girl, sparked by curiosity, peers into a box containing a butter-stealing sprite and is turned into one herself. Of course, shrinking is hardly a new story but it's done with such warmth that even Walt Disney would have a tear in his eye.

The collection ends on a strange note with 'The Escape Option' written by Kazu Kibuishi. A young boy is taken on board a box-shaped ship and is offered the opportunity to abandon the doomed Earth. This may leave some readers slightly down, especially younger ones. Although the final message of hope and resilience may see them through.

The only story that jars in the collection is 'Whatzit' about a young alien worker assigned to organise thousands of boxes but is hindered by a destructive force. There's nothing wrong with the tale but it's almost too out of this world when compared with the everyday feel of the others.

Although aimed at children, younger readers may not get the bigger messages in some of these tales. They will enjoy the varying artwork, though, so all is not lost. 'Explorer: The Mystery Boxes' is a great way to introduce children to a new world of comics beyond the mainstream as well as teaching them to enjoy and embrace the mysteries of life.

Aidan Fortune

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