Camerado! I give you my hand!

Camerado! I give you my hand!

Allons! The road is before us!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Why I love Max and Maira

"I want to say
That wonderful ideas
Can come fom anywhere.
Sometimes you make a mistake,
or break something,
or lose a hat,
and the next thing you know,
you get a great idea."

~Max Stravinsky

Max is a poet, and a dreamer. He is also a dog.

Max is the hero of several children's books by the witty and wonderful Maira Kalman, whose drawings have appeared on the cover of the New Yorker for years, and hilariously decorate the pages of The Elements of Style (apparently, she went into a store one day, picked up a copy of the book, and decided that it needed pictures), as well as non-Max books and several lovely year-long blog projects for the New York Times (I am so hoping she will revive her blogging). The most recent is "The Pursuit of Happiness," from 2009. It will be released as a book this year.

Max is the dog everyone wishes they could be. That's why I love him.

"Good things come out of incomprehension." ~from "Illustrated Woman" TED video, October, 2007

Maira doesn't believe in talking down to kids. I don't have children, can't have them, and have never wanted them, but the fact that she doesn't talk down to them gives me hope. Most kids are way smarter than given credit for. Many parents think they have to "dumb things down" for their kids, but I find that to be tiresome and pedantic. I think children should be exposed to things that make no sense to them yet. I think it widens their brains. Like puppies, they are sponges, soaking up the world in little bits and bytes. You never know what will stick.

(That said, my never-to-be-born children would have grown tired of me, always offering them art and literature that was too advanced for them, and expecting them to like it. "Just because you loved Romeo and Juliet when you were 11 and practically memorized the whole play doesn't mean we have to. I wanna play Pokemon!" I would then grumble and sigh and say something like, "When I was your age..." and they'd tune me out. So, better to be sans children--I'm sure their taste in art would have bored me.)

Readers understand the incredible power of literature, and I do believe that kids reading a bit over their heads makes them better readers, and enjoyers of the printed page. Kalman's "Max" stories are poetic and use words most kids (and many adults, albeit typically not the ones reading her work) don't hear on a daily basis--words like pluperfect, ruminations, and debonnaire. Her character's names are delicious. (I so hope one day to meet a Mr. Hoogenschmidt.) One has the lovely moniker Ferrrnando Extra Debonnaire....great name for a dog.

Speaking about the seminal writer's style manual for the ages, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, she muses,
"E.B. White wrote a number of rules which can either paralyze you and make you loathe him for the rest of time, or, you can ignore them, which I do, or you can, I don't know what--eat a sandwich."

Kalman's text in her kid's books scrolls wildly on the pages, too, which has a certain "to hell with you, typesetter" quality to it. It wraps dangerously around her drawings, clinging to them precariously on some pages. I LOVE THIS. It satisfies me like a nice rare steak at the end of an emotionally trying day.

You know what else I love about Maira? She takes photos of oddities, or everyday objects, and then draws pictures of them and thinks up captions. I can't paint, but I do like oddities, or the art of the absurd.

She uses words purposefully, and yet, with abandon. If I was ever able to meet her I would surely babble like a schoolgirl and bow down like a subject humbled before the crown. I'm embarrassed just considering the thought.

If you haven't seen her work, you are missing out. Besides the Max adventures (including my favorite, Swami on Rye: Max in India), check out Smartypants: Pete in School and Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman. The Principles of Uncertainty is a classic.

.(above) From "The Pursuit of Happiness" blog.

Kalman's bibliography on Amazon

Definitely worth a watch: Maira Kalman, the illustrated woman | Video on

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