• Happy birthday, Jim Harrison (The Boy Who Ran to the Woods).
  • It’s the birth date of Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (1892-1982), ghostwriter for Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books who took over the Stratemeyer Syndicate after the death of her father, Edward Stratemeyer (1862–1930), and Marjorie Henderson Buell (1904–1993), Little Lulu.
  • Happy birthday, Indiana, which became the nineteenth U.S. state in 1816, and to UNICEF, established in 1946.
  • It’s International Mountain Day, and this year’s theme is “mountain minorities and indigenous peoples.” Read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode, and the My Side of the Mountain trilogy by Jean Craighead George.

December has been designated Read a New Book Month. And, of course, in December for one holiday or another, children often receive books as presents. If I wanted to pick a new picture book for ages four to ten that’s perfect for gift giving, I would recommend the new offering by three-time Caldecott winner David Wiesner, Art & Max.

Certainly one of the most gifted artists of his generation, David Wiesner has always been a perfectionist when it comes to his creations for children. He believes that children look at book in more exacting ways than most adults and that they deserve books where great attention has been paid to every illustration. If it takes him three years or ten years to get a book right, then he takes that time. He also works closely with design guru Carol Goldenberg on all of his projects. Hence each book presents not only a story but a visual feast for the eyes. Art & Max lives up to everything else that Wiesner has done—and he has even pushed himself further as an artist. To create some of the art in the book Wiesner even built his own spin-art machine, which takes paint dropped on a mechanical spinner and splays out a beautiful design, an example of the dedication he puts forth to make sure that every detail works.

The story begins on the half title page as a green Collard Lizard runs across, then sprints over the copyright page to the title page when his friend Arthur (Art), a Horned lizard, paints in a classical, academic style. Max, a young experimental artist, wants to paint, too, and sets up his easel. But then he turns the paint on his friend—“I’m painting you!”—and chaos ensues. Soon a composition worthy of Jackson Pollock emerges. Things get even messier as Max attempts to clean up the paint—but ends up obliterating his friend by pulling away his black-line outline. Eventually with a little revision and spray painting, Arthur emerges again even better than before, and the two friends create some spirited painting in the dessert.

Besides being an art history lesson in forty pages, the book also pays homage to Salvador Dalí, Giorgio Morandi, Jackson Pollock, and Georges Seurat. It incorporates several popular culture icons as well—George Herriman’s Krazy Kat comics, Chuck Jones’s Road Runner and Coyote cartoons, and even Pink Floyd and The Who.

Everything—from the cover underneath the jacket, with an illustration that looks like a Jackson Pollock painting, to the back flap of the jacket with a picture of David as a child—enhances this reading experience. Beautiful paper and classic typography help make Art & Max fun to read and a pleasure to hold in your hands as well. Bravo to David Wiesner for a great performance—and to all the supporting staff who have made this book such a treasure.

Here’s a page from Art & Max:


Originally posted December 11, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Art
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Art & Max


  1. Jennifer says:

    I read this book and was not impressed. I couldn’t understand why it was getting such buzz. Now, after reading this, I need to go back and give this book another go. Thanks!

  2. Anita says:

    Jennifer: Thanks for the comment. Yes, do look again. Adults love the details I discuss in the review; children love the romp of the lizards — even the sub plot of the lizard trying to get his portrait finished. Anita

  3. G.Perry says:

    This is my first reading of Art & Max. I loved the colors. I liked it but was not quite as enthusiastic about the story line as some.

    I have learned that very often, when a book has received high praise by many, I need to reread it later, when in a different mind-place, so, I will reread this again at a different time. I do love the art work.

    One book I don’t see much comment on that Wiesner published, and one I absolutely fell in love with was Sector 7.

    I thought that book extraordinary. Perhaps the pilot and amateur astronomer in me resonated strongly with it. I feel it is a masterpiece of creativity and inspiration.

  4. Anita says:

    Sector 7 is an amazing book — there are days when I see clouds that look as if they were produced by that factory. Anita

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