Written and Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015
Max and Marla are best friends.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy and his owl train for the Olympics.
Max is a boy and Marla is a snowy owl and together, they form an Olympic downhill sled team. At first, they prepare by bundling up and stretching before going out to practice. But their equipment isn’t working properly, so they go back in to fix it. After a good night’s sleep (which is important), they add an equipment double check to their preparations and then head out again. This time, the fierce wind blows them and their sled into a tree. They take a sick day to heal and then they add a weather check to their preparations before heading out the next day. When the sled goes downhill and then throws them into the snow, they celebrate their victory and the fact that they are true Olympians who never give up.
Author/illustrator Alexandra Boiger is perhaps best known as the illustrator of the Tallulah series of books by Marilyn Singer. This is her first time taking the author’s role as well and I think it’s exceptional. Although the book is ostensibly about Max and Marla’s experiences with sledding, it’s more about their attitude, which is what really makes them Olympians. The idea of learning from every misstep is a really important lesson, especially in a world that often sets too much focus on the goal and not enough on the journey.
The illustrations, in watercolor and ink with Photoshop color treatments, set this story in a beautiful snow-covered village and wash it all in shades of blue and white. I love snowy owls and Marla is drawn adorably beautiful, with a pudgy little belly and a sweet owlish face. Not only do these two not let their setbacks get them down, they remain positively joyful and celebrate their own determination. At the end of the book, the final picture shows them awarding each other with doughnut medals. Can you get cuter than that? No, I don’t think you can.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that if you really want something badly enough, you learn from every misstep and never give up.