Author: Jeanne Perego
Illustrator: Donata Dal Molin Casagrande
Published: St Pauls Publications (Australia and New Zealand, Ignatius Press elsewhere)
Age Range: 6 -12
This is a gentle book – a picture book that is not so much a story, as the daily observations of Pope Benedict from the point of view of a blue rock-thrush. For a picture book aimed at this age range, there is a lot of text, but younger children will enjoy having this book read to them.
His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, is presented as a serene, amiable man who works hard prays regularly and is very devoted and dedicated to his role. We learn that the Pope meets hundreds of people, says Masses and gives special blessings to thousands of people who gather to see him. He writes. He has meetings. He prays. By book’s end, we have a much clearer idea of what the Holy Father does all day.
The book is as much about the birds who fly about the Vatican as it is about the Pope. We learn the names of the birds, and their favourite places to nest, eat and play. The author gives personalities to different species – some are pesky, some majestic and some scary to the little blue-rock thrush. We also get to know our narrator as he flies about the Vatican going about his business. He closely watches the Pope and gets to know his daily habits.
The illustrations are dreamy and impressionistic. The overall design is gentle and thoughtful, which adds to our sense of a Pope who serenely passes his days attending to his many duties. I wondered if there could have been more illustrations depicting the inside of the Vatican, or of the Pope mobile or the summer residence. Children’s understanding of the Pope and the Vatican might have been increased with more detailed illustrations of where he lives most of his life. On the other hand, the story is told from the point of view of a bird as he lives his relatively carefree life, flying about Vatican City.
I would pair this book with the Pope’s Cat by Jon M. Sweeney as a means of teaching children about the Pope and the Vatican. Max Benedict is still a beautiful book despite being published in 2008, and I would recommend it for children learning about the Holy Father.
You can purchase Max and Benedict HERE
Homeschool and Teacher Ideas.
Firstly, take a look at my ideas for teaching children about the Pope and the Vatican HERE.
This book particularly focuses on the birds of Vatican City.
Check out this website here: https://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/checklist.jsp?region=VA
Most of the birds listed in Max and Benedict on page 34 (in my publication) are found in the list. You can click and find a picture of the bird and a few other facts.
Why not ask children, depending on their age and capability, to research one or two of the species of birds and create a project/podcast/powerpoint that describes the bird and one or two interesting facts. Why do you think the birds gather at Vatican City?
Draw the birds flying about the Vatican.
Creative response: tell/write/draw a story of one of these birds having an adventure and meeting the Pope. Maybe they meet the blue-rock thrush who narrates Max and Bendict.