Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive » Poetry Friday: Word Up, the Sequel

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In a fairly recent Poetry Friday post, I told you about a picture book that is not written in rhyme and not a poetry anthology of any sort — The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter and illustrated by Giselle Potter, published in March of this year. But I chose it for Poetry Friday, because — chances are — if you love poetry, you love words. And here, I wrote, is a picture book for you. Well, along came the über-talented Kate Banks in August of this year to bring us Max’s Words, illustrated by Boris Kulikov — which, I’m happy to humbly suggest, is what you can read right after you read Schotter’s book. The Boy Who Loved Words rejoices in those marvelous morphemes. And Banks’ cunning, playful book rejoices in putting those wayward, winning words together to make our savory sentences and unique, little units of meaning; our beguiling stories; our shapely, pleasing poems. Ah, how sweet it is . . .

Did I mention this is a terrifically clever and playful book? Even the dedication page is so (both author and illustrator dedicating their work to their sons, both named Max — and with their initials being K.B. and B.K., well, it’s an amusing page). Anyway, poor Max! His two older brothers, Benjamin and Karl, collect stamps and coins, respectively, and won’t allow Max to have one, measly, little coin or one pee-wee little stamp. Ah, siblings.

Max not only wants to collect something of his own, but he’s a bright, little lad who devises a smart, slick, sly way to get his hands on some of his brothers’ loot. And how does he do this? By collecting words. He starts with small ones (a, the, its, an, ate, who, to, day), cutting them out of his parents’ copy of (a thinly disguised) New York Times Book Review (complete with a Martin Amis headline on the cover). Max then moves on to bigger words (hungry, asked, through, alligator); words that make him feel good (park, baseball, hugs); words of things he likes to eat (bananas, pancakes); words that are spoken to him (go away!); favorite colors; and words he does not know, copying all these onto little slips of paper that pile up all over the house, causing his brothers to do a double take. Best of all, Max realizes his brothers just have a pile of money and piles of stamps when they put their objects together; he has a thought when he puts his words together. And . . .

When Benjamin and Karl arranged their collections in different orders, it didn’t make much difference. But when Max put his words in different orders, it made a big difference. A blue crocodile ate the green iguana. The blue iguana ate a green crocodile.

After trading words with his now-covetous brothers in exchange for a coin and a stamp, the three of them fervently sort through their words (what coins? what stamps?) and arrange them to make stories — sweet, sweet stories.

O my this is a wonderful, intoxicating subject matter for children, the power of their words to create story (and syntax and pragmatics and other lovely linguistic matters). What an alluring way to introduce children to the potential creation of their own stories, their own first poem. Woo hoo!

Kulikov’s illustrations are colorful, bold, and full of humor. He metaphorically brings Max’s collection of words to life with a variety of lettering styles, colors, shapes, and textures, and he literally brings them to life by personifying many of them, such as the aforementioned crocodile and iguana; the animals’ bodies are wrapped all around the letters as they slither along, eating their prey. Max is a bit dishevelled with his wild, untidy brown locks, slightly disoriented look, and loose, colorful red sweater; his brothers are clean-cut, all decked out in bow ties, vests, and plaids — and they all have big ‘ol, curious eyes (is this Kulikov’s signature style? He’s new to me). Shucks, those sharp-dressing, chiselled-lookin’ hotshots can be creative types, too, but we’ll indulge Kulikov’s typecasting. Most delightful are his aerial perspectives, particularly when Max is bending down to the ground over his collection of wonderful words, all consumed in them, while his brothers peek around the doorway. The illustrations captivate.

So, find your favorite child(ren), read this one, and then engage in the joy of arranging words to your liking, to tell your own singular story, as Banks and Kulikov have done with Max’s Words. One of my favorite picture book titles this year.

Happy Poetry Friday!

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