2018 Christian Literacy Awards: Maxine’s New Job Nomination
Maxine Hill is an inquisitive fourth grade student who loves to read, work crossword puzzles, visit her best friend, Amanda Grayson, and play with her cat, Amos. Maxine is also on a quest to find out why her neighbor, Mrs. Sullivan, is acting so weird. Mrs. Sullivan is always outside sitting on the front porch with her two rescue dogs or working in her flower bed. However, she seems to get very nervous when Maxine talks to her about everything. What is going on with this lady? Is she a robot spy? Is she an alien? Is she working for the CIA? Follow Maxine Hill as she solves the case of the strange neighbor!
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Maxine’s New Job by Dr. Lynda J. Mubarak
Audio introduction: http://www.audioacrobat.com/note/CwnKcptX
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.
Maxine’s New Job written by Dr. Lynda J. Mubarak and illustrated by Adua Hernandez introduces us to a young girl named Maxine Hill who loves to read, work crossword puzzles, visit her best friend, Amanda Grayson, and play with her cat, Amos. Maxine is a fourth-grade student who is full of curiosity and wants to take up a career of forensic scientist when she grows up. Maxine is concerned by her neighbour Mrs. Sullivan’s strange behavior and is determined to track down the cause. She embarks on a fact-finding mission and finds out that Mrs. Sullivan was dropped out from school when she was in seventh grade and can’t read! Fortunately, Maxine with the help of her supportive family takes up a new job of being a tutor to Mrs. Sullivan and teach her how to read.
Maxine’s New Job is a nice introduction to what a neighbor is and the role a neighbor should play. Teaching service and helping others can’t be done through direct instruction. You can share positive examples of service via stories in great children’s books and Dr. Lynda’s book does a wonderful job at teaching kindness, service, and helping others. I especially love the sense of community that is prominent throughout the book. It introduces kids to what a community service is and the importance of serving people in need.
It’s a good lesson for our children to learn, that although everyone has deficiencies in some area, there is always something we can do to help if we are looking for opportunities and making ourselves available. I love the line said by Maxine’s mom “When a person needs help, you do what you can for them with what you have or what you know”. It’s a sweet story about open hospitality and generosity to those around us.
What I particularly liked about this book is that it features a young black girl as an adorable protagonist of the story. We know that all children love seeing faces like theirs within the pages of their picture books, but it can be hard to find books starring kids of color. Dr. Lynda’s book not only gives children of color an opportunity to see themselves in stories but also helps broaden the perspective of all children by fostering children’s sense of empathy and connection with characters who might look different from themselves.
The illustrations are so beautiful, and the plot is captivating. You’ll love this friendly little girl who has quite a fun and busy school life but takes the time to check on her neighbour and help her by teaching how to read. Highly recommended to kids of all ages!