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Mitch is a Year Six student and everything sucks. He writes poems about how everything sucks, in fact. He is being bullied at school, and he’s no longer close to Ryan, a good friend. He sucks at footy in some ways, and while he is good at the game in other ways, it’s the sucky part that sticks with him. Stuff is happening with his parents – they are always fighting, and in particular his Dad seems to get angry at every little thing. He doesn’t understand why his Dad is like this, and he can tell that his Mum wants to help him, but his Dad isn’t open to that help. So when Mitch inadvertently injures Jason, the boy bullying him, things come to a head at school. It’s the accumulation of the different things happening at home and at school, but Mitch knows he’s in the wrong and apologies to Jason. It’s then that Mitch begins to open up to his school chaplain and admit he needs help. Through all this, in his backyard he has Maximus, a magpie with whom he makes friends. It’s almost as if the backyard becomes his oasis in a world where things are just all wrong for him. This is a book about allowing kids to feel all the things that it’s not “cool” to feel – being bullied, being worried for your parents, and not understanding why you’re feeling like everything is going wrong. It’s also a book about asking for help, and about being unafraid to have these feelings of loss, and anger – at your friends or your parents. Mitch is given some excellent advice and coping mechanisms, and the author presents this in a way that young readers are going to love – if Mitch can write a poem about how everything sucks, and it’s essentially a list of all the things that suck… and it makes him feel better, then young readers can too if they need to. The resolution of his parents’ issues is particularly important too, because like Mitch, his Dad final recognises he needs help and starts talking to a counsellor, which makes a difference to their home life immediately. Young readers will see that adults need the same sort of help they might too, and that for young and old it’s okay to ask for it. There are lovely friendships, and even an examination of ANZACs and what it means to Australians to honour that history in Maximus. I liked that the author acknowledged refugees in the book as well, by having a young Asian classmate of Mitch’s relate how her family was affected by war as well, and her experiences as a refugee. I almost think there are so many important issues the author tackles in this, that it might be a better read, if some were saved for a second book. I can’t finish without mentioning the lovely illustrations, which will resonate with young readers as they will see their own messy rooms, backyards and family dinners in them too!
Reviewed by Verushka Byron
You never quite know where the help or support you need is going to come from. This is exactly what happened to Mitch, as far as Mitch was concerned life sucked and that was just how it was. Through an incredible friendship with the most unlikely character Mitch was able to start seeing life in a different way. He was able to look at things through new eyes, and experience things in a different way. This allowed Mitch to start to enjoy life in a way he hadn’t for a long time.
Mitch is a very believable character with family problems that could be happening in any home. This book showed Mitch that there are things that happen that he doesn’t understand but still impact on his life, and he learnt the importance of talking about problems with someone to help work through them.
This is a well-written book and I would highly recommend this book to children aged 10+. Resources on the publisher’s website include: Maximus class activity, teacher’s notes and curriculum notes.
Review by Ted Witham
Illustration by Tash Macfarlane
Eleven-year-old Mitch feels a little out of place when his Fly In – Fly Out dad’s behaviour becomes erratic. Mitch makes friends with an ailing magpie, whom he names Maximus, and they heal each other.
This inventive novel deals with themes of self-esteem, family love and first love with tenderness and skill. It draws on Steve Heron’s long experience as a worker with children. Steve, the founder of the BUZ programs (Build-Up Zone) for primary-aged children, has written before, but this is his first full-length novel for children.
I enjoyed it.
Be-friending a magpie is obviously drawn from experience. The book contains a brilliant description of an inter-school football match.
Maximus means ‘the Greatest’ in Latin, and Steve shows the journey to greater self-esteem in a way that will appeal to middle and upper-primary readers.
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This book will really resonate with readers, particularly those that might be going through a rough patch and feel isolated in their troubles.
Mitch thinks that the whole world is against him. Not only is he having trouble with the kids at school, but his life at home is just as frustrating. His FIFO Dad has changed and is now always angry and volatile, and his relationship and interactions with his little sister just annoy him. The only thing that brings him peace and happiness is the magpie, who he names Maximus, that now keeps frequenting his backyard.
It is not until Mitch has a massive meltdown, and lets all his built up anger and frustration out, that things start to turn around for him. This book really does highlight that there are people around all of us that are there to help, and each and every person has their own struggles that they deal with in different ways.
It has extremely strong themes of friendships, loyalty, family conflict and conflict resolution, bullying and self-confidence, and it is a book that will suit all those aged 9 and above.
Maximus by Steve Heron
Review by Sam from Lamont Books