Philbrick, R. (1998). Max the Mighty. New York: Scholastic Inc.
A year after the losses and difficulties presented in Freak the Mighty, Max is still adjusting and recovering emotionally. When he overhears the desperate scream of an eleven-year-old girl, Max decides to help her against the gangbanger who is stealing her belongings. A bookworm, the girl is called "worm" by all of her classmates. And after helping her out, Max can't help but be more aware of the strange and bullied girl.
When Max learns that her stepfather is a crazed street preacher called the Undertaker, he can't help but be reminded of his own murderous father. Helping worm escape the Undertaker will mean more than just going to her home in the projects and hoping to scare the abusive stepfather who lies to the police. Worm and Max end up on a cross-country escape attempt, looking for Worm's real father. Along the way, Worm begins to heal as Max protects her, becomes her friends and deals with his own loses. They make some friends whose willingness to help will amaze and they see beauty in the American West.
Philbrick manages to pack this small book with as many serious issues and heart as it's prequel, Freak the Mighty. Fans of the first book will know that Freak is not forgotten, but at the same time, this text is accessible to readers who haven't picked up the first book yet.
Activities to Do with the Book:
Since both Max and Worm's mothers endured abuse at the hands of their husbands, this book could trigger a lesson on signs of emotional and physical abuse. Also when using this book, a teacher should be ready to discuss what other options were available to Max and Worm beside running away after the Undertaker sways the police on his side.
As with Freak the Mighty, the way characters are perceived by others is a central theme to this story. But in place of focusing on negative assumptions about people, a teacher could draw out the idea of how believing the best in others may help them to be their best. A teacher could also draw students' attention to the number of foils between Max and Worm, their mothers, the fathers and step-fathers, between Freak and Worm, etc.
Other themes include issues of freedom, perception, friendship, kindness, death, faith and recovery. A teacher could pair this Max the Mighty with some of the books Worm reads, such as A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Earthsea series, The Sword in the Stone, and The Hobbit. But I think another good pair would be Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, since all three involve wanderings through caves and incredible journeys.
"My name is Maxwell Kane and the thing you should know about me is this: even though I'm a big dude with a face like a moon and ears that stick out like radar scoops and humongous feet like the abdominal snowman, inside I'm a real weenie. A yellow-bellied sapsucker. A gigantic wuss. A coward" (p. 1).
"So," she goes, "now you're Max the Mighty."
For some reason that makes my ears burn hot. "I'm just Max," I tell her. "Just plain Max."
Worm has this sort of smile on her face, like she knows a secret about me" (pp. 13-14).
"Because the Undertaker is always spouting about punishing sinners, and how only he know what is true, the Truth with a capital "T." What a load of baloney. A man who'd do that to his own family, treat them like dirtballs, he wouldn't know the truth if it bit him on the butt" (p. 22).
"You've got to get her away from here. Please. Take her away!"
Worm has her face hard against my chest and she won't look at her mother.
"Run away!" her mother urges. "Do it! Go!"
And that's how I became a desperate criminal and kidnapper, wanted by the law" (p. 26).