“Prepare for a creative wordsmithing adventure.”
Max’s brothers think he’s boring for staying in with his letter blocks when they’re planning to go out and play. But when they see Max use the letter blocks and imagination to do some impressive world building, they decide to join in the fun, and together they build castles, encounter pirates, and escape dungeons. As she did in Max’s Words, Banks will thrill readers with Max’s knack for wordsmithing; however, this time, it is not with Max’s ability to string words together into captivating stories, but instead to command a tale with letter blocks: “There are no weapons in my kingdom . . . I will turn your SWORD into WORDS.” Kulikov’s depiction of many illustrations out of letter blocks that also spell the word is a creative touch that allows Max to “twist” letter blocks to turn, for example, “battle” into “babble.” While the cleverness of the wordsmithing will only be appreciated by readers who can spell, kids of all ages will recognize letter blocks and enjoy seeing a traditional toy at the center of the story. It’s a praiseworthy detail that when Max’s brothers decide to join him, they follow Max’s lead and play with him, rather than dominating the play as older siblings. Kulikov’s distinct illustration style, influenced by his background in set and costume design, veers from the romanticized portrayals of adventure in much of children’s literature and gives Max’s story a theatrical feel. Characters are placed like actors on stage, and illustrations are laid out on the page as an audience would view a play.
When Max finds a pile of forgotten toys under the bed, his brothers Benjamin and Karl wonder what’s so special about some old blocks. So Max shows them. With some clever twists of both blocks and imagination, he constructs not only a castle but an entire adventure, complete with pirates and knights, a dark dungeon and a dragon. This ingenious sequel to Max’s Words and Max’s Dragons shows readers just how much fun wordplay can be.
Max’s Castle is a really clever book and sure to fascinate any early reader. The book brilliantly explores words by mixing around or swapping the letters in one word to create an amalgamation of similar words and anagrams. Early readers are sure to enjoy, for example, that by simply adding an “l” block to the word “adder,” Max and his three brothers smartly create a ladder to escape from the dangerous adder in the dungeon of the castle. Kate Banks and Boris Kulikov have some fun with the illustrations and anagrams surprising us with threatening pirates in one page before turning “pirates” into harmless “rat pies” in the next page. This book is sure to delight readers with its wit and imaginative exploration of letters.
Max’s Castle is clever and enjoyable to read. Much of the brilliance will be missed by children, but this is a book that can grow with a child throughout the years as they discover more of the puzzles hidden within the pages.
When I am asked what I do for a job, I am often tempted to say that I don’t work. That’s because I am lucky enough to do something I love for a living. For me my writing has been a place where head meets heart and that is the place I wish to take my readers—whether it be an outer journey or an inner journey. Because that’s the place of realization where anything is possible. When I’m not writing or practicing therapy, I love playing the piano, doing pottery, puttering around outdoors, and cooking. I especially like making birthday cakes, but I hate cleaning up. And I love being with children. I love watching them and listening to them as much as I love writing for them. I am a huge fan of the Boston Red sox, the brain and what it can do, and imagination—all of which have limitless potential and can accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Boris was born in Russia, and graduated from The Institute of Theater, Music and Cinema in St. Petersburg. He emigrated to the United States in 1997 and his career there began as an illustrator for the New York Times Book Review. Boris currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife Yelena Romanova, who is an author and two sons Max and Andre.
We love how delightfully clever Max’s Castle is. What was your favorite part of creating the illustrations for this book?
Boris: Max’s Castle turned to be a very tough project for me. When I read the first variant of Kate Banks’ story I felt I loved the story, but I did not know how to illustrate it. To me it looked like a great idea for animation, but not for book illustrations. I addressed my concerns to Frances Foster and three of us started to look for the right idea of how to fix the problem. It took quite long, but the solution, as it often happens, was very simple. The fact that I was responsible not only for the illustration, but also for the whole concept of the book was a great experience. I was very thankful to Kate for being opened to my concerns and suggestions.
There’s a lot of word-play in Max’s Castle that’s communicated through illustrations as well as through the text itself. Did this present any unique challenges?
Boris: Each time it is a unique challenge for me to work on Kate’s stories and this is what I like. I like when an author makes me think and invent new ways to illustrate. I would say in Max’s Castle the three brothers building words out of alphabet blocks and the story out of the words was exactly the same as the three of us, Kate Banks, Frances Foster and I, were building the book.