By Elizabeth Wroten
Picture Book Review: Maxine’s New Job by Lynda Jones-Mubarak
On 29, Jun 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Maxine Hill is an inquisitive 4th grade student who has a talent for solving problems and enjoys helping people in need. While using her quirky skills of observation, Maxine discovers an unexpected secret about Mrs. Sullivan, her sweet, quiet neighbor that changed their relationship forever.
We’re back in the world of Shorty and the Sullivans, this time across the street with Maxine Hill, a precocious fourth grader. Maxine is an adorable girl with big glasses and a big heart. Her family is gentle too and I enjoyed meeting them. The illustrations have a cozy feeling to them as we see into the places in Maxine’s world.
The book is definitely on the long side for a picture book. Obviously this isn’t unheard of, I simply tend to prefer keeping picture books shorter and saving more complex stories for transitional chapter books, but that’s totally a personal preference. I think the story and length does make the book a better fit for older audiences, first or second grade and up. If you could get your third and fourth graders into it, it would be great!
From a social justice standpoint I thought this book really tackled some interesting problems. Maxine and her family support being involved in community and helping out how and when they can. They volunteer at a food pantry once a month and started to do so after Maxine noticed an unhoused man and began asking questions. (Side note, I wish the book had called him unhoused instead of homeless.) I really love that her family is so willing to engage in this way and the way Mubarak has written it, it comes across as genuine and sincere instead of didactic.
It’s this ethic of service that leads Maxine to help Mrs. Sullivan, her neighbor across the street, solve a problem. It turns out Mrs Sullivan is functionally illiterate, largely because she struggled so much in school learning to read, never got the help she needed to be successful, and then dropped out of school. I have never seen a picture book that takes on this issue, but it isn’t an uncommon one. I know my library system has a program for adults who are illiterate or need more reading instruction and it isn’t the only program like that out there by any means. It might not be super realistic that a fourth grader is going to help a woman with learning disabilities to learn to read, but I love books that take a positive stance on children stepping in and stepping up, even if it’s not totally plausible. I think it’s a representation of sorts. It shows kids they can help and puts faith in them. No need to squash their optimism and willingness to do good. If anything I think it encourages them to stay engaged and find ways they can help even if it doesn’t look exactly the way they first think it will.
I do have to point out two criticisms of the book. First there is a typo (an incorrect name) on the second to last page. Not a huge deal, but I wish it had been caught. There’s also a continuity error. The text says Maxine has a puppy named Amos, but he is pictured as a cat in the illustrations. That being said, before you decide not to purchase the book and roll your eyes, writing it off as a mistake only made in small press/indie press/self published books, know that there are frequently typos in traditionally published books. Both in continuity and in the form of typos. While it’s unfortunate when it happens and can be frustrating for readers, it’s not uncommon. Don’t let this deter you from considering this book (for personal copies feel free to cross out words and correct them). The overall message and story and the representation on the page are far too important to write it off.
Update: I was sent an early, uncorrected copy of the book. The author reached out to me and graciously offered me a new copy. The mistakes have been fixed! So definitely be sure to get your copy today!!
Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.
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Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.