Max and Sally and the Phenomenal Phone
Miloš Macourek & Adolf Born
Originally published in Czechoslovakia in 1982
English translation by Wellington Publishing, 1989
As my son is fully immersed in longer readers in the afternoons and evenings, I've still been holding true to picture books in the morning... and have been on the lookout for longer ones. I'd been intrigued by this title ever since Esme mentioned it in a post a few months back. Shortly thereafter, I was able to find it at a thrift shop and was not disappointed in the slightest. I might even go so far as to call this an epic picture book, but technically, it is really more of a fully illustrated chapter book of cosmic proportions.
In chapter one, we meet Max and Sally, two neighbors, friends and third graders... plus their buddy Johnathan, another neighbor's terrier. At school that day, Max is called on by the teacher to stand before the class and give a monologue about the behaviors and habits of rabbits.
But about Rabbits Max knew next to nothing. The only rabbits he knew were Bugs Bunny and Peter so he just kept repeating like a broken record, the wild rabbit lives in the woods, he lives in the woods, he lives in the woods... til the teacher stopped him and said, listen Max, even babies know that rabbits don't live in libraries or in ice cream parlors.
The language and writing in this book kills me, how it all spills together with no quotation marks or pesky grammar rules. Almost like a poem. And so... good thing for Max, later that afternoon he and Sally help a stranger who gifts them a seemingly ordinary telephone receiver... that turns out to be, well, phenomenal, of course.
Sally was laughing too and said jokingly into the receiver, Wouldn't it drive you really bats if there were a million cats? And after she had said it, the receiver answered, did you say a million? Suit yourself! Max and Sally stared, stunned, as unbelievable scores of cats appeared around them, tomcats and kittens, white, black, and dapple-gray, toms sitting on the road, cats in treetops, kittens on the rooftops, mewing till everyone's ears buzzed.
Basically, the phone makes anything you want to happen, happen. Pretty quick, the pair figure out that if they turn themselves into rabbits and explore, Max will surely get an A+ on his rabbit test retake... which he does. But there are still three more chapters to go wherein Jonathan gets changed into a boy so he can join Max and Sally on a field trip... the trio make themselves so tiny so as to sneak into Charlie Beans' body and battle his strep throat germs... and finally, they give all the animals at the zoo the gift of gab so that they might complain accordingly. Thus, why I referred to this book previously as EPIC. A super imaginative collaboration between two Czech artists; writer/filmmaker Macourek and illustrator/animator Born... wild and whacked out and definitely a keeper.