Cardboard : A Librarian’s Perspective Review

I’ve only read six books in my 2016 Graphic Novel Challenge, but I think Cardboard by Doug TenNapel is my favorite so far. So creative!

AUTHOR: Doug TenNapel
SERIES: none
PUBLICATION DATE: August 1, 2012
ISBN: 9780545418737
PAGES: 288
SOURCE: my library
GENRE: graphic novel; light fantasy
SETTING: present-day; suburban American neighborhood
GIVE IT TO: upper-elementary, MS, HS, adults


When Cam’s broke father gives him a cardboard box for his birthday, they make the best of the situation by crafting the box into a cardboard man. Overnight, that man comes to life. But Cam’s bully neighbor discovers Cam’s cardboard man and seeks to create his own cardboard army of monsters.


Though it’s a fantasy book, Cardboard features many real-life issues such as unemployment, grief, bullying, and affluenza parenting.

Cardboard reminds me a bit of the Looney Tunes cartoons in that readers will relate differently depending on their stage in life. As an adult, I absolutely loved and identified with Cam’s father. He loves Cam fiercely and desperately wants to provide him the life he deserves. He is strong, stubborn, hardworking, and determined to support himself and his son without help or pity from anyone else.

Both he and Cam still grieve the untimely death of Cam’s mother. There is also a potential relationship with the lady next door, and I loved her frustration with Cam’s father’s stubborn personality and his reluctance to move on after his wife’s death.

Younger readers will identify with Cam. Like his father, Cam grieves over the loss of his mother. It’s understandable that Cam wants to create a cardboard-version of his mother. Cam must also deal with the neighborhood bully, Marcus, who is so rich and spoiled that he seems to feel absolutely no remorse or pity or guilt over anything or anyone.

Marcus does at least seem to care about his pet rat, so perhaps he isn’t completely soulless. His monsters are creative, and he does have bit of a turnabout near the end.

The full-color artwork shows expressions and movement well. I love what TenNapel does with eyes especially. I laughed out loud at Cam’s father’s facial expressions when their single neighbor, Tina, comes around. It’s like he’s running from her and likes her at the same time. He doesn’t know what to do with her–too cute! The very last page was my favorite!

THE BOTTOM LINE: Fun for any age, even adults!

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it. All the Doug TenNapel books in our library are popular with students.

READALIKES: other TenNapel graphic novels: Ghostopolis, Bad Island, Tommysaurus Rex


  • Overall: 5/5
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Engrossing: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Appeal to teens: 5/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5


  • Language: none
  • Sexuality: very mild; a female neighbor has a crush on Cam’s father
  • Violence: medium; a cardboard monster army threatens the neighborhood
  • Drugs/Alcohol: none
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