By Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; $16.00
32 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0374399498
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
When you're the youngest in the family, it's natural to want to be just like your older siblings, but tough to keep up with them, especially if they're not too interested in helping you along. Take for example, the little boy in Kate Banks' new picture book Max's Words.
Young Max has two older brothers; brothers who have collections. Benjamin collects stamps and Karl collects coins. Both have sizeable hordes of all different shapes, colors, textures, and styles. They display their collections to friends and family, who, of course, ooh and ahh at their treasures. Both turn Max down flat when he asks for a stamp, when he asks for a coin. So Max decides to start a collection of his own: words. Words cut from magazines and newspapers. What starts as sibling one-upmanship evolves into much more than Max, or his brothers, ever imagined with Max's Words.
At first he starts small, with "a," "the," "to," "you," "day," and so on. Then he moves on to bigger words, more active words, and more colorful words: "pancakes," "slithered," "goodbye," and "go away." Under Kolikov's hand, the words Max collects look like what they are -- "hungry" has a bite taken out of it, "baseball" is shaped like a bat.
Max's brothers soon realize that Max has a collection of his own, and that he can do more with it than just look at it or count it. As Max plays with his words and discovers what he can do with his collection, creating sentences and short stories, he (and thereby the reader) learns the importance of word placement and order in a sentence: there's a big green iguana being consumed by a blue crocodile, then a green crocodile being consumed by a blue iguana. Max connects a short sequence of sentences to make a brief story -- with Kulikov's illustration of that story on the facing page, demonstrating his imaginative tale.
Karl and Benjamin are fascinated, and with a clever trade, Max achieves his original goal, although it's no longer his primary goal.
Max's Words is an excellent choice for sharing with pre-readers and early readers, children in preschool through the early elementary grades, whether they can read the book themselves or still would like it read to them. In addition to being an entertaining story, Max's Words illustrates for children key aspects of language and storytelling, from simple word recognition and meaning, to sentence structure and story-building. Varying fonts visually distinguish the words in Max's collection from those that are part of Banks' narrative. These visual cues also help kids find the words in the heavily-textual illustrations, how words become more that just words in sentences and stories.
Illustrator Boris Kulikov has illustrated several other books for children, including Morris the Artist, while author Kate Banks is an established children's book writer; she has been awarded the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and the Charlotte Zlotolow Award.
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