Rosemary Wells's Max's Breakfast
A Max and Ruby book
Book review by Monica Friedman
Popular Cartoon Rabbit Plays with His Food, Subverts the Dominant Paradigm
If you and your children enjoy the antics of bunny siblings Max and Ruby, you’ll be able to appreciate the quiet and gentle humor conveyed in very few words in this baby board book, appropriate for very young children with very short attention spans, but still interesting to older children who know and love the characters and will probably take more from the ironic and somewhat subtle (for a children’s book) comedy than the babies to whom the text is directly aimed.
As in all the Max and Ruby stories, Max, the barely verbal toddler rabbit, and Ruby, his incredibly bossy older sister, are completely unsupervised. Max wants to eat from a bowl of beautiful, plump, red strawberries for breakfast, but Ruby insists that his sunny-side-up egg be consumed first. (Apparently no one has informed Ruby that eating fruit prior to protein enhances healthy digestion.) Max labels his meal, “BAD EGG,” and thus the battle of wills begins.
Having only recently acquired a sense of object permanence, Max first attempts to trick Ruby by hiding his egg under a napkin, but the keen-witted Ruby is not fooled by this, nor by Max’s attempts to dump his egg onto a chair. Although the yolk is broken in the endeavor, and consumption of the egg at this point is most likely unsanitary, Ruby does not relinquish her quest to stuff this egg into Max’s face. Some people (or in this case, some big-sister rabbits) seem never to learn.
At this point, Max attempts to hide from the egg, but alas, he is not very adept at hiding.
To demonstrate the egg’s worthiness of being consumed, Ruby attempts modeling behavior, and Max watches in good humor as Ruby proves to him how delicious the an egg can be, after which Max astutely points out that Ruby’s conditions have been fulfilled. The egg is eaten (“ALL GONE, said Max”), albeit not by him, and he is free to consume strawberries to his heart’s content.
The success of this incredibly popular series can be attributed to a few factors. Of course, the illustrations are delightful, the plump white anthropomorphic rabbits seemingly designed with the idea of plush spinoff toys in the works. (Webmaster's note: sure enough!)Then there is the sibling rivalry aspect. In these books, Ruby, as the older sister, constructs a power dynamic that seems to exclude Max, by virtue of his extremely limited vocabulary, from having a voice in decision-making. Ruby is the embodiment of the conservative establishment, while Max, the disenfranchised underdog, bristles under her dictatorial decisions.
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Despite his lack of identifiable power, Max has the ability to think outside the box, and manages to outwit his sister’s fascist influence time and again. It is the triumph of the underdog that makes these stories so attractive to young readers. Max's Breakfast demonstrates ways in which very small readers may take the upper hand and rebalance the power relationships in their own lives through determination or stubbornness or patience, along with a little unorthodox thinking.
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