Literary Guide for Kate Banks’ “Max’s Words”

Max’s Words
by Kate Banks

Learning words can be incredibly exciting for young children, especially those who are just beginning to read and are developing the skills to decode words on their own. Kate Banks’ book Max’s Words captures this time in life beautifully, and uses a boy’s enthusiasm for vocabulary to weave together a tale of collecting, autonomy, and developing self-confidence, and is the featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series. Young and old readers alike can enjoy the book, but it speaks in particular to early elementary-aged students, as they likely share similar experiences with the protagonist…

Max’s Words tells the story of a young boy whose older brothers pride themselves on their collections but refuse to share them. Max, being the youngest, has yet to develop a collection-worthy interest of his own and feels left out. After some deliberation, he begins a collection of words – big ones, small ones, interesting ones, and plain ones. He cuts them from newspapers and magazines, and spends lots of time organizing them in different piles and patterns. Despite his brothers’ skepticism for his collection, Max keeps it up, and eventually realizes that his collections allows him endless storytelling power, for the words can be arranged however he wants in order to tell a new story. The tale ends on a happy note, after Max discovers a fantastic way to win his brothers’ respect once and for all. By the end of the story, he is a confident collector whose words are endless.

The book’s illustrations, paired with the creative tale, bring the true spirit of Max’s collecting to life. Created by Boris Kulikov, the images bring Max’s collection to life, adding a synesthesia-like element to some of his words. Each brightly colored page draws the reader in more and more as Max’s discoveries are chronicled through cartoon-like depictions of his adventures in word-hunting.

While the story will draw the interest of younger readers in particular, the story can appeal to readers of all ages, as anyone who enjoys reading can understand the allure of powerful words. Reading the book may even spark the beginning of a family word collection, where new and interesting words (maybe even made up ones that are part of a familial lexicon) can be housed. Such a book can serve as an archive for vocabulary, but will also illustrate children’s growth over time. If kept for even as little as a year, the changes in a student’s understanding of words and the ways in which they use language will be quite evident. Try making your own journal-style archive out of recycled materials, and let your vocabularies grow!

The literature guide provided for Max’s Words is written for six- and seven-year-old first graders, but the activities – which focus mainly on defining words and creating connections to text – could easily be used with students of any elementary age. There are mini-lesson outlines for activities that can be done to encourage young students to make text-to-text and text-to-self connections during and after reading, an exercise that helps students to make what they have read meaningful and to extract themes from a text. Another lesson asks students to illustrate words and generate words that relate to it, an exercise in both creativity and description. Discussion questions included in the guide include suggestions for conversations about the meaning of collections, the development of self confidence, hobbies and personal interests, and other big ideas introduced within the text.


Hilltown Families weekly Summer Reading Resource series shares downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion questions, art projects, outdoor adventures, and many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for use at home for supplemental education. Featured titles cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics, some are lesser-known gems – but all of the books present potential for helping families build upon the stories that they read together. — Interested in featuring this series at your local library or school? Email Sienna at

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