Woof! Available now: BOY’S BEST FRIEND by Kate Banks and Rupert Sheldrake

Rupert and I are eager to hear about your experiences with your own dogs.  Please go to our webpage, boysbestfriend.net, and send us your own stories.  And while you’re at it, why don’t you conduct your own experiment and document it in a logbook.  We’ll show you how!

Making Sense of a Sixth Sense: When the World of Why Becomes the World of Woo

As young children engage in their surroundings and attempt to make sense of the world, one of the first words they utter is ‘why?’ The insatiable desire of children to know ‘why’ is a spontaneous and normal reaction to the introduction of new stimuli.   And as long as the tried and true material view of the world can answer that ‘why’ then all is well. But when questions begin to touch on religion, consciousness and cosmology then “the world of why” often becomes “the world of woo”—an area that takes many out of their comfort zone.


My experience with children has shown me that they are much more receptive to the world of woo than adults. They are more in touch with their feelings, often more connected to their gut instincts. Why is this? Neuroscience is beginning to understand that there are two mechanisms by which we process information. The first, controlled by the right brain, is instinctive and prehistoric in origin. Its seat is the reptilian and limbic parts of our brain and it functions on a subconscious level, expressing itself in the gut. The second mechanism is controlled by our left brain and resides in a newer area (aptly termed the neo-cortex). It operates in the realm of conscious thought and is slower and more analytical. According to researchers intuition is part of the first mechanism and that explains why it comes on so rapidly and often makes no rational sense. So why should we trust our gut instinct? Because researchers have found that it knows the right answer long before the left brain.


It’s quite likely that phenomena like telepathy and paranormal events are somehow connected to the first mechanism by which we process information. And as such there are some who believe that those phenomena deserve to be taken more seriously by the scientific establishment.  Biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, is one of them. Recognizing the existence of major, unsolved problems in the areas of science, he proposes testable hypotheses aimed at expanding the frontiers of scientific enquiry.  With this in mind, he has written a number of popular books including Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (1999), The Sense of Being Stared At (2003), Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (1994). His most recent book, Science Set Free (2013), calls on modern science to shed its restrictive materialism and reductionism in favor of a more open-minded approach. Moreover, Rupert believes that science should not belong to an exclusive group of academically formed specialists, but that it can be practiced by everyone, including children and young people.


I met Rupert after one of my own forays into the world of woo, trying my own experiment based on the work of Neville Goddard in his book Awakened Imagination. Neville instructs that in order to achieve your goals you need to “put yourself in the wish fulfilled.” My wish was to write a middle grade novel with Rupert Sheldrake and I followed Neville’s instructions for six weeks, after which I proposed the project to Sheldrake. I had been deeply impressed by his work on morphic resonance as well as his experiments with animals. And I admired his attempts to include young people in his research, inviting them to participate in experiments on his website. Like Sheldrake, I am a firm believer that children can benefit enormously from engaging in the natural world whether through science or simple observation.


Of course I was thrilled when Rupert agreed to collaborate with me on a project, but I was no less impressed by Neville’s guidance which, although clothed in the guise of scientific method, seemed to belong more to the realm of “woo.”


BOYS’ BEST FRIEND (pub date July 15, 2015) is a hybrid—a combination of fiction and non-fiction–based on Rupert’s work with dogs who know when their owners are coming home. While presenting Rupert’s experiments in the context of scientific method, the story also documents how scientific inquiry is as much about self-discovery as objective thought.


Sheldrake’s books have been nominated for burning. But rather than burn them, I’d like to suggest a bonfire where we can sit around and talk about them. And while we are at it let’s invite the shamans, native Americans and others who were well-versed in communication with animals once upon a time when we were more connected to our natural world. Being connected to others and to the natural world, whether through relationships, telepathy, or emotional resonance, means being connected to self. So there is much more at stake here for our children than just scientific investigation.

News and Reviews for MAX’S MATH


“Max and his lively imagination (Max’s Words, etc.) are back for a fourth outing. This time around, Max hits the highway; as usual, his older brothers go along for the ride. What are Max’s plans for their road trip? “To look for problems…Because it’s fun.” With a long scarf looped jauntily around his neck, Max takes the wheel and drives to Shapeville, where the boys help the townspeople rebuild after a storm. Later, in Count Town, the three hunt for the numbers needed for a rocket launch countdown. Banks’s writing is clever and playful and brisk, and her story is an absolute standout from other math fare. All too often, math content in books for children feels contrived or tacked on, or it smacks of reconstituted textbook material—and didacticism reigns. Here, Banks’s characters experience math more organically; the boys play with numbers and shapes—encouraging readers to do likewise (although some may be confused that a counting-sheep art sequence begins with zero). In Kulikov’s whimsical illustrations, math is everywhere: shapes and numerals adorn cows’ hides; the countryside is graph paper; a traffic cop and the mayors of Shapeville and Count Town are all Albert Einstein doppelgängers. This is a book that inspires love for math.” tanya d. auger–Horn Book

From School Library Journal
K-Gr 2—In the fourth story about Max and his two brothers, numbers and shapes take center stage instead of words. Max builds a car and tells his siblings he’s off to look for problems, and soon all three are on their way to adventure. The boys prove to be quite helpful as they assist in rebuilding Shapetown after a storm and in locating the lost numbers required for a Count Town rocket launch. Kulikov’s illustrations add much to the story and invite counting and simple problem solving while also demonstrating that shapes can be combined or divided to make other shapes. Max’s car is pristine white, creating negative space, thus continuing the math theme, and the mayors of both towns resemble Albert Einstein and reflect the towns’ names. Shapes and numbers are hidden throughout the brightly colored illustrations, offering seek-and-find games: on a cow, in the configuration of a road, a clockface. In order to get to sleep after his exciting day, Max counts sheep while lying under his patchwork quilt made up of various shapes. Young children will enjoy the familiar characters and the fact that the youngest of the three brothers is again their leader.—Maryann H. Owen, Children’s Literature Specialist, Mt. Pleasant, WI
“Max is back in the fourth in his eponymous series of concept books . . . Kulikov’s rich, textured paintings are filled with details that extend the story and invite young mathematicians to stop and examine Max’s fantastic world . . . Bold. MAXimum fun!” – Kirkus Reviews

“In the fourth story about Max and his two brothers, numbers and shapes take center stage instead of words.” – School Library Journal

“Kulikov’s visual flights of fancy will set readers’ imaginations soaring as Banks slyly introduces a bevy of math concepts.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED

Max’s Word Wednesday: Cower

To cower is:

1: to shrink away or crouch especially for shelter from something that is frightening.

Example: The squirrel cowered in the corner of the crate. “Don’t be afraid,” said Max, holding out a hand.  He wondered if the squirrel would bite.

Did the squirrel bite?  Check back next Wednesday and find out.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad …MATH?

When I suggested to my publisher that Max (MAX’S WORDS, MAX’S DRAGON, MAX’S CASTLE) transition from words to numbers they were elated. But when I wanted to call my new book MAX’S MATH the editorial staff and marketing department issued a collective cringe. They were intimidated by the word MATH. Coming from a place of literary bias I could see why “math” might be outside of the comfort zone for some editors. But even the sales department were concerned that people would shy away from buying a book with what appeared to be a dirty four letter word in the title.


So who’s afraid of the big bad math? Apparently, according to studies, between 60-90 percent of Americans suffer from math anxiety—a condition characterized by sweaty palms, racing heart, negative thoughts, feelings of defeat and avoidance, and ultimately, poor performance. And they are not just children and young people.

[Anxiety Attack; Conquering the Fear of Math, Dr. Rose Vucovic and Rachel Harari, Schoolbook, March 2013].


Math phobia is a collective contagion in our society. And like all forms of collective contagion it is unconsciously transmitted among societies’ members including educators, parents, and other students. While verbal illiteracy is a social stigma, the widespread nature of math phobia makes numerical illiteracy acceptable. But there is no scientific foundation for this.


Research suggests that we are all born hardwired to do math. Math has a lot going for it. Apart from its obvious practical applications, it provides structure, rules, boundaries. And we can all benefit from a little more intimacy with these concepts in our daily lives.


So it’s time we banish the anxiety around the subject of math, and confront our fears. That translates into engaging with those fears by building an awareness early on of how math concepts surround us. We need to encourage children to involve themselves in math activities on a daily basis. Simply stated, we need to change our beliefs about math. We live in a society where math and technology are increasingly important. And as Dr. Vucovic says, “We all have a a role to play in turning math into the one four-letter word children use loudly and proudly.”


*MAX’S MATH will be on the bookshelves on March 10, 2015.


Advance Reviews for MAX’S MATH


“Max is back in the fourth in his eponymous series of concept books . . . Kulikov’s rich, textured paintings are filled with details that extend the story and invite young mathematicians to stop and examine Max’s fantastic world . . . Bold. MAXimum fun!” – Kirkus Reviews


“In the fourth story about Max and his two brothers, numbers and shapes take center stage instead of words.” – School Library Journal


“Kulikov’s visual flights of fancy will set readers’ imaginations soaring as Banks slyly introduces a bevy of math concepts.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED 


Max’s Word Wednesday: Rafter

A rafter is:

1: any of the parallel beams that support a roof.

Example:  A squirrel had squeezed in from under a rafter in the roof and chewed a hole in the crate.

What did the squirrel do when it saw Max?  Check back next Wednesday and find out.

Max’s Word Wednesday: Crate

A crate is:

1: a wooden or plastic box used for storage or for moving things from one place to another.

Example:  The thud was coming from inside a wooden crate.  Max opened the lid of the crate,  and two large round eyes were staring back at him.

What was in the crate?  Check back next Wednesday to find out.

Max’s Word Wednesday: Thud

A thud is:

1: a dull sound like a thump.

Example: Max climbed the stairs and and when he got to the top he heard a thud.

What do you think the thud was?  Check back next Wednesday and find out.

Max’s Word Wednesday: Eerie

Eerie means

1: scary or causing fear

Example:  The door creaked opened and Max found himself standing at the foot of a dark and eerie staircase.

What do you think?  Did Max climb the stairs?  Check back next wednesday and find out.

Max’s Word Wednesday: Prosperity

Prosperity is:

1: the condition of being successful or thriving.

Example: The rabbit wished for a happy new year with plenty of peace, prosperity, and contentment for everyone.

Wishing all of you a happy New Year!

Check back with Max in 2015 for plenty of new wondrous and wonderful words!