Max's Words

Max's Words, by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov, 2006, 32 pages,
ages 4-8.

Our librarian flung this book at our heads a few days ago. It was a happy choice (the book, not our heads). Not only did we enjoy reading it, it inspired an hour of "literacy activities" that made me feel like a Good Parent.

The plot is simple--Max has two brothers, one an avid philatelist, the other an equally avid numismatist. But will they give Max a single stamp or coin? No. So Max decides to start his own collection--of words. He cuts them out of newspapers and magazines, and copies them from the dictionary (it was scary for a minute there. I thought he was going to cut up the book). Soon he has heaps and heaps of words, in pile after pile.

Words are pretty neat things (even banal, overused ones). Words that tell stories are especially nice (a word I will defiantly continue to use, even though my fourth grade teacher told me not too. Darn it). Max begins to use his words together, and the fun really begins as they turn into Stories.

The words are not just any old words, but Illustrated, Colorful, Alive words that are rapidly evolving into concrete poetry. "Baseball" is bat shaped, "hungry" is bitten, "alligator" and "crocodile" have spiky teeth. And when the words make stories, clever and colorful illustrations show how they fit together.

The words are so much fun, in fact, that the two older brothers want their share. They start to make their own story, and the (mild) tension builds--will they get the words together fast enough to kill the worm (bad older brothers) or will Max be able to foil them with a quick arrangement of his own words, and save it?*

The value of words in a more pragmatic sense is underlined at the end, when Max swaps piles of words for a coin and a stamp (which he can perhaps use to send his first ms. off with).

In short, this was a fun, snappy book. But wait, there's more. The real value of this book, I think, is that it makes kids (and me too) want to write words on pieces of paper, cut them up, and make stories and nonsense and poems with them. This is what we did last night--about an hour of all four of us on the living room floor, surrounded by words, and some punctuation. My little boy slept with the question mark and the exclamation mark, and took them to school today. The last I saw of them they were on the Sharing Chair, a tad doubtful, but very excited.

*the worm lives.

PS: My personal favorite book about the power of words is Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy Sayers. My favorite book in which words come alive is Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson.

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