Most adults buyers of kids' books are book lovers themselves. I can't help but believe that they hope their little ones will internalize their love of words and reading. It's a laudable goal, but not an easy one. Kates Banks, however, succeeds magnificently in transforming the metaphorical power of words into something much more literal!
Banks and the very talented illustrator, Boris Kulikov, begin with three boys: Karl the coin collector, Benjamin the stamp collector, and Max--who can't think of anything to collect. To make matters worse, Ben and Karl refuse to share their collections with Max.
Suddenly, and to the derision of his two friends, Max decides to collect words. Max proceeds slowly but diligently, never reading words bigger than he can digest. With a little confidence, Max moves on to bigger and bigger words, and then to words he doesn't even know! As he embellishes his vocabulary, Kulikov throws in some clever visual puns; the shape and form of the written words reflect their meanings: The word "Baseball" is in the shape of a bat, the "O" in the word "dogs" is a collar, "hungry" is written on paper that has a big bite. "Alligator" and "crocodile" are long words with spikey teeth along their edges, together they form the upper and lower jaws of something one might call a "crocogator."
Through Max's testing of words and word order, Banks and Kulikov also explore the power of syntax: Word order can make a big difference! Max discovers (and we share this through the pictures), that "A Blue Crocodile Ate the Green Iguana," has a different meaning than "The Blue Iguana Ate the Green Crocodile," a difference particularly significant to the iguana and the Croc!
As the book progresses, the increasing energy and scope of the words' power seems inspired by a combination of the old Monsanto "Shrinking Person" ride at Disneyland, the runaway power of "The Sorcerer's Apprenctice," and the dream-becomes-nightmare of "Alice in Wonderland." Max (a playful, curious and therefore fast learner) discovers that with enough words he can write a story.
As Karl and Benjamin discover that the word can be mightier than the sword, they try to ruin Max's story about a young worm with their own animated words. "Karl scrambled for more words. He wanted the crocodle to eat the worn." Fortunately, Max is quicker--he and the worm narrowly escape through a hole, signifying Max's newly won confidence and self-acceptance.
This is a wonderful, well-illustrated, book about how we learn reading, and the power of words combined with a good imagination.