One-Minute Book Reviews

August 16, 2008

A Captivating Picture Book About a Boy Who Loves Words

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:13 pm
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[I'm on vacation today. This review of one of my favorite recent picture books appeared on this site in late 2006, a few weeks after the launch of One-Minute Book Reviews.]

An inspired partnership results in an ideal gift for preschoolers

Max’s Words. By Kate Banks. Pictures by Boris Kulikov. Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Frances Foster Books. New York, 32 pp., $16. Ages 4–6 (younger for reading aloud).

By Janice Harayda

Sometimes an author comes up with such a wonderful concept for a picture book that the idea might soar even with inferior art. If the illustrator is equal to the task, the result can be magical, as with Max’s Words, the story of a boy who collects words.

Max decides to collect words, cutting them out of newspapers and magazines, when his brothers won’t share their stamps and coins with him. This premise is rich in possibilities, and Kate Banks and Boris Kulikov make more of them in 32 pages than you might imagine possible. Max discovers that when he puts his words together, he can make a story. This leads to a story-within-a-story, about “a big mean green crocodile” that wants to eat a small brown worm. Without becoming preachy, Banks’s text makes a case for the unique power of words: “When Benjamin put his stamps together, he had just a bunch of stamps. When Karl put his coins together, he had just a pile of money. But when Max put his words together, he had a thought.”

Like all good picture-book images, Kulikov’s whimsical illustrations at once reflect the story and send it into another realm. When Max snips the words “alligator” and “crocodile” out a newspaper, we see his scattered cut-outs forming the upper and lower jaws of a reptile. And his story offers a fine antidote to gifts that require plugs, consoles or batteries. Without saying so directly, Max’s Words reminds children that sometimes you have the most fun with activities that cost nothing.

Best line: Quoted above: “But when Max put his words together …”

Worst line: None. But a small picture shows Benjamin assuming an anatomically impossible position while rearranging his stamp collection. This might not matter if such positions were intrinsic to the story or if other characters also assumed them. Neither of these is true, so this image is slightly jarring.

Editor: Frances Foster

Published: August 2006 us.macmillan.com/maxswords

A new a book or group of books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday in the Children’s Corner on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site and check back or subscribe to the RSS feed. Children’s Corner reviews may be posted on Friday night.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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