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Maira Kalman's Enchanting Books for Children

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Ooh-la-la (Max in Love)

"Allo Jacques. It's moi, Mimi.

What a horrible day.

The butcher delivered 

the wrong order.

Instead of sixty spicy saucissons

and a small steak

for my dog Sutzi

they delivered sixty steaks

and one sweet saucisson...


Lest you forget, some of the most enchanting books for children ever written and illustrated, are by Maira Kalman, a quintessential New Yorker. Quirky, witty, and irreverent, yet also lyrical and optimistic in a world that sometimes seems to have escaped us, Kalman’s 18 books for children juggle color, language, typography and painting. Perhaps an influence that came from years of working closely with her late husband, Tibor Kalman, who founded the iconic design studio, M&Co, but Maira Kalman had wanted to write from the time she was a child. At first she used narrative illustrations to tell stories, then she began writing books for children in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s published her series about Max, the dog, who dreams of moving to Paris and becoming a poet.

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Max Makes a Million

All her books, whether for adults or children, were inspired by life around her; by her family and friends. But Max, she admitted in an interview, was based on herself, a sort of “nutty-kind-of-philosopher-comedian.”

In 2017 the New York Review Books began to reissue Kalmlan’s books for children, including her famous Max series, which you’ll find below, including a few other treasures. 


Banner image from Max Makes a Million, all images courtesy nyrb

What Pete Ate from A-Z

Is there anything Pete won't eat? Poppy's charming yellow dog starts off by eating Rocky's accordion. All of it. He snacks on a bouncing ball that belongs to Uncle Bennie's dog Buster, and then makes a meal out of the rest of the alphabet. From glue sticks to underpants, Pete works his way through all twenty-six letters in Maira Kalman's creative take on traditional alphabet books. Packed with Kalman's trademark bright artwork and a hilarious story filled with wordplay and repetition, this alphabet book is pure fun from A to Z.

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Next Stop, Grand Central

At Grand Central Station, Chief of Police George Coppola finds lost people, and Mr. Chidchester, head of the Lost and Found, finds lost dogs. Marino Marino makes oyster stew, while thinking up interesting math problems. A man in a porkpie hat buys cherry pies. Maira Kalman's stylized artwork, along with entertaining text, brilliantly captures the excitement of Grand Central Station, "the busiest, fastest, biggest place there is."

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Ah-ha to zig-zag: 31 objects from cooper hewitt, smithsonian design museum

Maira Kalman's exuberant illustrations and humorous commentary bring design history to life in this inspired ABC book that celebrates thirty-one objects from the Cooper Hewitt. A. Ah-ha! There you Are. begins this joyfully illustrated romp through the treasures of Cooper Hewitt's design collection. Kalman's ABC book introduces children and adults to the myriad ways design touches our lives. Posing the question If you were starting a museum, what would you put in your collection?, Kalman encourages the reader to put pen to paper and send in personal letters-an intimate, interactive gesture to top off her unique tour of the world of design. Objects ranging from a thirteenth-century silk thinking cap to 1889 tin slippers with bows, all the way to Gerrit Rietveld's Zig-Zag chair are brought to colorful life. Kalman's hand-lettered text is whimsical and universal in turns, drawing lessons as easily from a worn old boot as a masterpiece of midcentury modernism. Irresistibly, we are led to agree, Everything is design.

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Max Makes A Million

Max’s dream is to live in Paris and be a poet. But do you think it is easy for a dog to pack a small brown suitcase, put on a beret, and hop on a plane? Ha! No one will buy Max’s poems, so without money he must stay put. But living in New York City isn’t so bad. Where else could he have friends like Bruno, with his invisible paintings, or Marcello, who builds upside down houses? And where else could he drop in at Baby Henry’s Candy Shop? It’s all possible in New York, a jumping jazzy city. And for Max, it’s a dog’s life that only Maira Kalman could invent. 

Ooh-La-La (Max In Love)

It’s happened. Before you can say “Pepé le Pew,” Max the millionaire poet dog has landed in Paris, the city of lights. The city of dreams. Everyone is in a froufrou of delight over Max. There’s Fritz from the Ritz, Madame Camembert, Charlotte Russe, and Pierre Potpurri, who wants Max to perform in his Crazy Wolf Nightclub. Amidst the enchantment and beauty that is Paris in the spring, something is missing for Max. That je ne sais quoi. That quelque chose. Max has made his millions; when will he find romance?

Max In Hollywood, Baby

Enter Max. Dreamer. Poet. Dog. In this rollicking madcap tale, publishing in time for the Oscars, Max and his dazzling Dalmatian bride take off to direct a movie in Hollywood. As Maira Kalman writes:

There is no way I could begin to explain the intricate and complicated plot of this book to you, so full of subtle detail yet so action packed.

But trust me, you will laugh till you cry and when you see how stupid it is you will cry even more.

And if at the end of this book, once you have looked up all the words in the dictionary, you are not completely unsatisfied, I, the author, will personally send at my own expense a large pickled herring or blue carp (your choice) to your first cousins if they live in Miami. No kidding.

Is it a romance? Yes. A comedy? Yes. A musical? Yes. Now stop asking so many questions. You’re giving me a headache already. 

Hey Willy, See The Pyramids

Nighttime is the best time for stories. And Lulu is the best storyteller. She knows about the three cross-eyed dogs at a fancy restaurant, about blue and green mountains where fish fly, about the family party where Maishel Shmelkin forgot to wear his pants and of course about the noodle woman with the pointy red nose. The stories, told by a sister to her little brother, are short and sweet and make you remember things and forget things. Maira Kalman paints a wondrous and humor-filled world in a childs-eye view. It is full of wild invention, people familar and outlandish, bittersweet moments and flights of fancy.

Looking at Lincoln

Who was Lincoln really? This little girl wants to find out. She discovers, among other things, that our sixteenth president was a man who believed in freedom for all, had a dog named Fido, loved Mozart, apples, and his wife's vanilla cake, and kept his notes in his hat. From his boyhood in a log cabin to his famous presidency and untimely death, Maira Kalman shares Lincoln's remarkable life with young readers in a fresh and exciting way.

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is perhaps best known for writing the Declaration of Independence—but there’s so much more to discover. This energetic man was interested in everything. He played violin, spoke seven languages and was a scientist, naturalist, botanist, mathematician and architect. He designed his magnificent home, Monticello, which is full of objects he collected from around the world. Our first foodie, he grew over fifteen kinds of peas and advocated a mostly vegetarian diet. And oh yes, as our third president, he doubled the size of the United States and sent Lewis and Clark to explore it. He also started the Library of Congress and said, “I cannot live without books.” But monumental figures can have monumental flaws, and Jefferson was no exception. Although he called slavery an “abomination,” he owned about 150 slaves. As she did in Looking at Lincoln, Maira Kalman shares a president’s remarkable, complicated life with young readers, making history come alive with her captivating text and stunning illustrations.

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Fireboat

The John J. Harvey fireboat was the largest, fastest, shiniest fireboatof its time, but by 1995, the city didn't need old fireboats anymore. So the Harvey retired, until a group of friends decided to save it from the scrap heap. Then, one sunny September day in 2001, something so horrible happened that the whole world shook. And a call came from the fire department, asking if the Harvey could battle the roaring flames. In this inspiring true story, Maira Kalman brings a New York City icon to life and proves that old heroes never die.

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Tags

Journalist, globe trotter and food lover

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