Luckily for Lincoln Peirce, his best-selling comic strip creation, Big Nate, agreed to write the introduction to the Portland author’s newest illustrated novel for children, “Max & the Midknights.” “This book has everything,” notes the sixth grader, in his book report on Max: “action, adventure, thrills, and tons of hilarious jokes.”

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Who am I to contradict Big Nate? “Max & the Midknights,” conceived as a spoof on the sword and wizard genre, is a tale of the misadventures of Max, a troubadour-in-training whose quest to become a knight involves some daunting challenges: dragons, evil sorceresses, thieves, giant rats, the undead, pretenders to the throne, magic spells and of course, gender bias. (No Disney film or children’s book today is complete without a feisty heroine battling for empowerment.)

Though the characters might be predictable, the broad humor will keep kids giggling with fart jokes, a bumbling wizard whose spells always backfire (“he turned me into a raspberry smoothie!”) and wordplay to complement the swordplay (“This king’s a royal pain!”).

Does the plot really matter? Suffice it to say there is a major twist that will surprise (and delight), and the rest is one white-knuckle adventure after another as Max enlists a group of friends to rescue an uncle who has been arrested by the evil king, restore the rightful king to the throne and defend a child’s right to follow his or her bliss, regardless of gender. It is, incidentally, to Peirce’s great credit that he manages to tell the action-packed tale without resorting to actual violence; Max’s merry band of “midknights” always use brains to outwit the bad guys. My favorite is when they talk the king’s guards into handing over their swords so that the kids might use them to demonstrate their mad juggling skills.

Calling “Max & the Midknights” an “illustrated novel” seems a bit of a stretch. It is better described as a book-length comic strip. It is 90 percent illustrations, with none of what one young online reviewer called those “giant and off-putting walls of text” that sometimes threaten the young person’s graphic novel. Whatever you call it, it is a fast-paced, lighthearted and rollicking romp that will appeal to many a reluctant – as well as enthusiastic – upper elementary-school reader.

But Big Nate already told you that.

Amy MacDonald lives in Falmouth and is a freelance writer and children’s book author. She can be reached at

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