Hands On Language: Max’s Words

Friday, April 20, 2007.

Max's WordsAuthor: Kate Banks
Illustrator: Boris Kulikov
Published: 2006 Farrar, Straus & Giroux
ISBN: 0374399492

Chapters.ca Amazon.com

Language leaps to life in this engaging story of competition, character and cultivating a thirst for words.

Other books mentioned: Cherries and Cherry Pits


Comment by Hannah Lewis

April 22, 2007 @ 6:19 pm

This is a very powerful book, in the sense that it shows the meaning and importance of words. It worked out great for Max that his older brothers didn’t want to share anything with him, because in the end Max shared with them. He showed his older siblings the importance of pictures with words as well as the importance of words in general. Also I believe it is great to spark a young child interest with words because that means the more they are interested in words the more the child will read.

Comment by Caroline Petrow

April 22, 2007 @ 7:38 pm

I cannot wait to bring this book to my classroom as I am always looking for ways to excite my students about literacy. I love the idea of collecting words and then using them to make creative stories. I also liked the idea of Max laying out the words and as he rearranged them the meaning of the sentence would change. I could actually see this book as a precursor to getting kids to collect their own words. It sounds like the book used fun and exciting ideas to get at some of the fundamentals of language. What a great book to motivate children about reading and writing.

Comment by Tamara Johnson

April 23, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

I too have often had a hard time bringing the excitement and love that I have for words and reading into the classroom. What a great book to introduce my students to. I currently teach fourth graders and although I don’t really think that this book would be appropriate, I think the preschool age students would love a book like this. How incredible that the little brother involved his big brothers in this process as well. I agree that this would be a great introduction into writing for the younger age. I haven’t read the book yet and now I am motivated to go out and find it so that I can continue to share the love that I have for reading with my own daughter.

Comment by Nathan Havner

April 23, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

The most striking parts of this book are the illustrations by Boris Kulikov. So much happens on each page, I want to examine a few illustrations to point out how this book is different from most children’s books as well as why it’s a good read. My students, DC Public Schools first graders, enjoyed the sibling rivalry aspect of this book, but I had to compare and contrast for them to get into the pictures. As it is said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It seems to be the other way around if you read the text of this book–the words that Max finds propel Max forward, bringing him up to the same level as his more accomplished brothers (proletariats and youngest siblings of the world, unite!) Max’s desire to “collect something” leads him to words. Maybe it’s also because words seem like a silly thing to collect, but I’m probably reading into it (but isn’t that the point!).
So, Max has his words, and, for once, he is not focusing on his brothers. Look at the pictures where Max is asking his brothers for a stamp or a coin–Max is on the side, with no background whatsoever. The artist does this great David Lynch corner of the room view that foreshortens everyone, giving them gigantic heads and teeny-tiny feet.
Max’s discovery of words, before he manipulates them, shows him in control, with the words gathering at his feet like so much confetti. Now Max is ready to write. The key difference between Max’s words and his brothers stamps / coins is that “[w]hen Benjamin put his stamps together, he just had 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.” The book doesn’t tell us this, but the actual physical words Max finds don’t make the thought, it’s Max’s manipulation of the words, of course, that gives life to them. In the same way, Max’s resentment of his brothers leads him to something productive, collecting words, and eventually writing a story.
Kulikov does something grand when Max begins to write his story with his brothers’ help. He shows the unfolding action of the story as a picture on the floor, with Max and his brothers contemplating what to do next as they slide words around. Off to the side you can see window-frame shapes in relief, sort of the negative space you would have if you had an invisible window. This has to be what the creative process is like for some authors, maybe the author of this story, Kate Banks.
Despite everything beautiful about the pictures and message in this book, one criticism remains. Why is the focus on the words? Max should be taking some credit for the story he writes with his brothers. Kids should learn to take pride in their art, in the fruits of their labor.
When I write (I promise I’m done after this!) I picture myself at my chair or piano bench, with all possible sentences / chords floating around my head, some bigger than others (ideas that make sense) but some so attractive I can’t resist once in a while. It’s up to me to pull them out of the air and put them on paper in such a way that it will be meaningful to me and, hopefully, someone else. If I pick lots of good ideas in a row the story or melody gains momentum, and then it feels like it writes itself, like this comment.
Thanks for indulging me.
What is the process you go through when you write?

Comment by Diana Rodriguez

April 26, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about competition, and how it affects children. As an educator, I am frequently being told that competition is bad and should be eliminated from the classroom. I am reminded of bacteria. We all know bacteria can make us sick. We love products that kill as much of it as possible. But the fact is we can’t possibly kill all of it, nor should we. Much as we hate getting sick, we need bacteria to maintain a healthy balance in our bodies and in the surrounding environment. Competition may lead to anxiety. It may cause children who feel unable to compete to shut down. It may cause children accustomed to winning to get bored. But when the carrot is dangled just right, I have found competition to be an excellent driving force in my life. We couldn’t eliminate it if we wanted to, and maybe we shouldn’t want to so much. What I love about this story is the lesson that when faced with a competitive situation, a child can come out on top by finding what is special about himself; what interests him. Moreover, by bringing his own offerings to the table, Max was able to change the atmosphere from one of competition to one of sharing. It’s a great example to kids of what it means to rise above.

Comment by Anjuli Bala

April 29, 2007 @ 11:06 pm

I think this book sounds like an excellent addition to my classroom library. While I appreciate the story because it creates a love of words, I can use this book to help my students create their own dictionaries. So many children are vocabulary deficient these days and while there is a significant amount of time is spent teaching vocabulary, there would be no comparison if the students took ownership of increasing their own vocabulary, just as the boys do in the book. It helps make learning and reading new words exciting and tangible. Additionally, the book is inspirational for kids because it shows a child being proactive and independent. Finding a hobby that matches his personality is stimulating and rewarding for him and should be for all children.

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September 25, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

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