Maya Makes a Mess starts with a scenario familiar to almost any child. Maya’s parents berate her for not minding her manners when she eats. Maya doesn’t sit up straight. She eats with her hands. She feeds the dog her vegetables. Maya doesn’t understand why she can’t just eat the way she wants, and her parents respond that she needs to learn manners in case she ever has to eat with the Queen. As Maya’s luck would have it, the Queen sends Maya a dinner invitation that night. However Maya never learned proper behavior and, anyway, eating without manners makes the food taste better. So Maya shows the Queen the best way to eat, causing havoc at the royal dinner table.
With a very tongue in cheek sense of humor, Modan has created every kid’s fantasy. Not only is Maya the center of her universe, she gets the opportunity to prove her point to her parents. What kid can’t identify with someone who finds the rules overly complicated? Plus, honestly, doesn’t everything taste better with ketchup? Modan gently pokes fun at the stuffy seriousness of adults while taking Maya’s manners to hyperbolic levels of silly. While the overt message is to be yourself, the exaggerated chaos Maya creates may even subtly reinforce the good table manners message adults want to teach. However, given the very literal nature of kids, that message may only come with an added adult-child conversation.
The art reminds me of an older generation of comic book heroes like Tintin and Little Orphan Annie (with eyes!) but with Modan’s modern spin. Her unique style supports the story, whether you just want to breeze through or stop to stare at each page. The detailed drawings make the food look good enough to slurp! However, the young members in the intended audience might not appreciate the old fashioned style as much as the adults reading alongside.
This is definitely a fun book for an engaging read for a child and an adult together. The child will delight at the silliness and the adult will bring an appreciation of the irony. However, both a sense of humor and a non-literal interpretation will be necessary, so it may not be right for everyone.
Maya Makes a Mess
by Ruth Modan
Toon Books, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 1-2