Some say there are only seven stories to be told in all the books in all the libraries in all the world.
Sometimes I think there are an infinite number.
Not least when two books fall into my lap with virtually the same premise and yet both tell such different stories, each with such brilliance and originality I am reminded of how imaginations really can hold no bounds. It happened last year when I read The Imaginary and Confessions of an Imaginary Friend. And this year, indeed this very week, it’s happened again with Max and Bird by Ed Vere (@ed_vere) and the book I reviewed on Monday, The Story of the Seagull and the Cat who taught her to fly. Both these books are exceptionally good tales about a cat who promises to teach a bird to fly. A cat determined to be true to his word. A cat who comes to discover real friendship with the most unlikely of companions.
The black cat Zorba from The Story of the Seagull and the Cat who taught her to fly becomes Max in Max and Bird. And Max is a kitten. And kittens chase birds.
It so happens that Max meets a baby bird. Is Max going to chase Bird?
Hmm. A dilemma.
Rather deceptively Max suggests they become friends, and Bird is completely up for it. But Max gives the game away when he announces, “First I’ll chase you […] then maybe I’ll eat you up.“. Bird responds with a seemingly impossible challenge: If Max (and remember, Max is a cat) teaches Bird to fly, then negotiations can open on Max’s choice of activities.
But do cats know how to fly?
Well, you know the answers to this one. But Max and Bird don’t give up. They persevere together to crack the problem, visiting the library, reading everything they can about flight, talking to experts in the field and…. do they manage to solve the problem?
Working as a great team, rising to a challenge, being brave and determined together, Max and Bird learn quite a few things. Not least, that they actually rather enjoy spending time with each other.
And so when Bird points out it’s time for him to to make good on his end of the bargain, does Max take him up on the offer of chasing and all the consequences that might entail?
What an upbeat, funny, beautiful story of friendship this is! Ed Vere’s ability to draw out such wonderful characters with seemingly simple brush strokes and very few words is quite remarkable. I don’t know if Vere spends hours observing people’s faces, but he has an uncanny knack when it comes to distilling the tiniest differences in ears, eyes and body language to convey – with incredible authenticity and wonder – such emotion, humour and personality. He also manages to pack amazing energy into his illustrations. Some of this comes from his use of wonderfully vibrant background colours on each page, but you can also feel it in the bodies of Max and Bird. These really aren’t 2-D representations simply on a piece of paper. Rather, they’re stored up bundles of vitality just waiting to burst off the page and zoom playfully around your home.
And Vere takes playfulness seriously. Along with enormous amounts of fun, he’s written a story with both heart and brains. This is the third outing for Max (though you don’t need to have read the earlier two picture books to enjoy this one), and the best yet, which is really saying something given that the first two were, actually, perfect books. The fourth instalment is currently being created… our family can’t wait to see where Max goes next.
Using this tutorial written by Ed Vere on how to draw Max, we spent a delightful morning drawing our own Max cats and Birds.
Using brightly coloured card to draw and paint on enabled us to mimic the design of the Max books – sumptuous in their bright rainbow of pages. Here’s the gallery we ended up with:
Can you spot the different ways Max is trying to join Bird in flight?
Whilst drawing and painting Max and Bird we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside reading Max and Bird include:
If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me:
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher, Penguin.