Max The Champion
Stockdale & Alexandra Strick; illustrated by Ros Asquith
Co-authored by one of Inclusive Mind’s founders, Max the Champion has been holding himself back modestly from the IM book review spotlight. But with a fantastic opportunity to meet the creators of Max at the Southbank Centre Imagine Festival on February 21st (2014), it really is time to give him the attention he deserves. To spare the blushes of Alex (Strick), this review comes to you from Letterbox Library.
A 2013 picture book from the Janetta Otter-Barry booklist which, through upbeat illustrations and loud exclamations (Wheeeee! Woo hoo!), introduces us to super-sporty Max, his sporty friends, and a delightfully unfettered child’s imagination.
What we like about it
As perhaps one of the most seamlessly inclusive story books Letterbox Library has seen, it will come as no surprise that Max was birthed by three people with inclusion very much on their minds – Alex and Sean, through their work at Booktrust and Nasen respectively, and Ros Asquith, Guardian cartoonist and a children’s illustrator who has always made it her business to show children their own world in all of its diversity (and with bucketfuls of humour).
As far as a passion for inclusion goes, the attention to detail in this book is remarkable, especially (but not only) in relation to images of disability: background images include tactile paving, people signing, a guide dog, and wonderfully multicoloured leg splints. The penultimate smiley group image is an absolute joy to see; it is just so refreshingly representative. Meantime, in the foreground, we discover Max wears a hearing aid, a detail which simply unfolds and is held off until half way through the book.
In a story which, both in its language and imagery, blazes with activity, speed, exertion and boisterousness, this is the most powerful challenge we’ve seen to assumptions about what it means to be disabled. Stereotypes of disabled people as ‘confined’, ‘trapped’, ‘impaired’, and, ugh, ‘wheelchair-bound’ are, quite simply, crushed.
But, make no mistake, this is in no way a story ‘about’ disability. Instead it is a story about a superbly restless child whose world is absolutely saturated with sport. Double page spreads show Max re-imagine his everyday life into a sports-infused world through thought bubbles. So, cheerios floating in a cereal bowl are re-cast as diving rings in an Olympic pool; a rounders ball struck hard during a school sports day becomes a UFO surrounded by googly eyed aliens. This picture book truly is for the sports-obsessed children you know. It might even inspire and tickle the more screen-fixated children in your life…!
Questions & learning points
Max the Champion excels in its ‘casual’ portrayal of inclusion. Do you think there is still a place for more ‘deliberate’ portrayals of disability such as Susan Laughs or Hachette’s Just Like You series?
Whilst Max is empathically not a book ‘about’ disability but a book about sport and imaginative play, a number of online reviewers write about using Max didactically ie: to promote an ‘understanding of difference’. Is this inevitable? Does this matter? What does it tell us about the representation of disability in children’s literature?
Could Max work as a character for the publisher? Does this story give him longevity? Oh go on, you know what I’m asking: Can you imagine a sequel...?
Beth: Just yesterday I recommended this book to someone as an effortlessly inclusive book. It's a great example of how a fabulous story can be representative of our diverse society without being didactic, and sets a standard for other books match. The more books we have like this, the more natural inclusion becomes, and the less likely it is that inclusive and diverse books will be used to teach about difference, because difference will just be accepted, and won't need to be taught.
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