An inspired partnership results in an ideal gift for 4-to-6 year olds
Max’s Words. By Kate Banks. Pictures by Boris Kulikov. Farrar, Straus & Giroux: Frances Foster Books. New York, 32 pp., $16. Ages 4–6.
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. This is a picture book you will be seeing in libraries for years, whether or not the American Library Association rewards it with one of its annual awards on January 22. Max’s Words is certainly equal to many of the Caldecott winners or honor books that crossed my desk during my 11 years as book editor of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.
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.
Recommended … for all 4-to-6 year olds and some 7- and 8-year olds.
Editor: Frances Foster
Published: August 2006
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© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.