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Friday, November 25, 2011

Max's Castle, written by Kate Banks and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. Farrar Strauss Giroux, Douglas & McIntyre. 2011. $24.95 ages 5 and up

"They began constructing a secret passage in the castle. It led to a DARK DUNGEON. "What's in a dungeon?" asked Karl. "In every DARK DUNGEON there's a DRAGON," said Max. "And a DOG," said Karl. "And a GUARD," said Benjamin."

And if you look carefully you will indeed see those three words in the letters that make up DARK DUNGEON. You want imagination? Max has it in spades, and he uses it once again for this third wordy adventure.

You may have met him in his previous tales, Max's Words (2006) and Max's Dragon (2008). This time he discovers the magic in wooden letter blocks. When he finds them under his bed, he builds a castle. It's huge and quite majestic; but only we know the many adventures that its construction will make possible for Max and his brothers Benjamin and Karl.

All he needs to begin is one block. That leads to the discovery of a box full of them and the wonder that these letter blocks can create using a rich imagination. As he builds his castle, his brothers gain interest and soon they are asking for their own rooms, and joining Max's many forays involving pirates (and rat pies), knights that spawn a king, an adder that becomes a ladder and so much more. In catastrophe, he finds hope and a star. And my personal favorite, words in a sword! Finally, he finds a feast in feats, and that leads the three enthusiastic siblingss to fulfillment and satisfaction.

If you are going on an highly imaginative journey, you might need someone to provide the dramatic color and great fun that makes that journey come alive. As he did in Max's other ventures, Boris Kulikov provides exactly the right touch, with energy and detail. Readers are sure to be caught up in the fantasy and they are likely to demand a second reading, and then perhaps, a third. What a joyful experience it is!

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