SUPERHERO MAX

Lawrence David, Author, Tara Calahan King, Illustrator , illus. by Tara Calahan King. Doubleday $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-385-32746-6

A new kid in school goes to imaginative lengths to win friends in this familiar-themed tale about acceptance. On Halloween, Max Pilner's Captain Crusader costume is the hit of such second-grade recess games as Giant Bug Attack and Wild Animal Land. "Captain Crusader chased giant bugs,... saved animals from a raging forest fire, and used his supersonic beam to cure all the patients at Happy Hollow Hospital." Not realizing that clothes don't make the boy, Max wears his masked outfit well after the holiday. David's (Beetle Boy) premise stretches credibility: Max keeps wearing his tattered costume in order to fit in with his peers, yet he rejects their offers to play games that don't require a superhero persona. Names like Happy Hollow Elementary School and a teacher called Ms. Slumber give the story a somewhat stock quality, but the book is notable for its single-parent household (it's Dad who makes breakfast, washes dishes and helps Max realize it's time to hang up the superhero attire). Full-color spreads feature an off-kilter look; the horizon tilts just enough to give the scene a jarring, quirky appearance. The characters also have a peculiar look, sporting King's (Odd Velvet) trademark round heads on pencil-thin necks, with eyes on the far sides of their faces and toothy grins that often resemble growling shouts. An odd little tale that speaks to the insecurity and playground pressures children feel. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)