Kittens and Cute. They go together like purple and prickles, tigers and teatime, picnics and lashings of ginger beer.
But even though every reader who picks up this book will definitely find Max adorable and charming, Max himself definitely does not want to be called cute. He wants to be big, grown up and brave. And to prove his mettle he’s going to hunt down his nemesis… a mouse.
But therein lies a problem. Max does not know what a mouse looks like.
The kitten’s not-knowing-any-better does indeed result in displays of exuberant courage and kids every where will identify with Max’s desire to be be hailed a hero, his refusal to lose face and the simple joy and playfulness of the chase to say nothing of the everyday challenges which arise from simply having to learn how the world works and what it made up of.
This book is an example of storytelling – in both words and pictures – whittled down to the very purest. With only a word or two on many pages, plain typesetting, apparently simple, unadorned illustrations (where much of the impact comes from the page colour and large empty spaces rather than highly detailed or vast drawings). In its bareness there is a direct line to the story, the humour, the characters. There’s nowhere for this story to hide, no embellishments, no fancy details, and this clarity gives the storytelling a freshness that is bold and very exciting.
Restraint may be present in Vere’s brushstrokes (he captures moments of determination, puzzlement, fear poetically and precisely – just take a close look at Max’s eyes on each page to get a sense of what I mean), but this is vividly contrasted with an exuberant use of colour to fill the pages. From Meg and Mog to several fabulous books by Tim Hopgood and one of my most recent reviews, The Cake, there’s a great tradition in picture books of banishing white pages and using glorious swathes of intense colour to the very edge of the pages. One could do some fascinating research into background page colour and emotions at any given point in the story; here, for example, the pages are red when Max is annoyed, and blue with things are quieting down and Max is feeling soothed.
Readers and listeners to Max the Brave may hear echoes of the Gruffalo’s Child with its themes of bravery and danger as a result of not knowing what something looks like, but perhaps more satisfying will be the recognition of characters (or at least their close relatives) from other books by Vere. Is that Fingers McGraw being sneaky once again? Could that be the monster from Bedtime for Monsters making a guest appearance? And indeed, is Max related somehow to the Bungles in Too Noisy? How lovely to be able to imagine these characters having such an real, independent life that they can walk out of one book and into another.
Packed with so much laughter and sweet appeal this book will prove a hit with many, many families. It’s certainly one we’ve taken to our heart – so much so that the kids wanted to make their own Max and retell his story in their own inimitable style.
First J sewed a black kitty out of felt, with pipe cleaners for arms, legs (and one stuffed in Max’s tale so it could be posed.
M (pen name: Quenelda the Brave) then used our new Max to create montages for each page in Ed Vere’s gorgeous book. She modelled her scenes quite precisely, took a photo, and then (as a veteran of adding moustaches and more to photos in the newspaper) edited her photos in a graphics editor to add her own sprinkling of magic.
Here are a couple of pages showing Ed’s original work (reproduced with permission) and the corresponding scene M created:
“This is Max. Doesn’t he look sweet!”
“Max looks so sweet that sometimes people dress him up in ribbons.”
“Max does not like being dressed up in ribbons.
Because Max is a fearless kitten.
Max is a brave kitten.
Miax is a kitten who chases mice.”
Here are a couple more spreads created by M (with guest appearances by Elmer as the elephant in Vere’s book, and a Wild Thing who is mistaken for a mouse.)
M had enormous fun (and showed a lot of dedication!) with this – she’s recreated the entire book out of her love for Max. I wonder what Max will get you and your kids doing…
Here’s some of the music we listened to whilst making Max and our fan-fiction:
Other activities which would go well alongside reading Max the Brave include:
What’s the cutest book you’ve read recently?
Disclosure: I received a free, review copy of Max the Brave from the publisher.