Max Counts To A Million by Jeremy Williams

Max Counts to a Million by Jeremy Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Max Counts To A Million is the first children’s book I’ve read to be set within the COVID pandemic. This is something I’m still wrestling with about whether or not to reference the pandemic in my own work and I don’t know if I’ve quite resolved it yet. What I do know is that I found some of what Williams recounts here actually very emotional to read and I can see the value of representing the peculiarities of this experience within children’s literature very much. Not only will Max Counts To A Million provide young people with a point of reference to discuss the strange surrealism of these years, but I can also see it providing some comfort to anybody who’s still trying to come to terms with what happened. And indeed, how those events continue to impact life today.

The plot is relatively gentle and straightforward and concerns Max’s decision to count to a million against the backdrop of the lockdown. Not only must he grapple with the pronouncements of the “floppy haired” PM, he must also deal with the direct impact of the pandemic on his family. Circumstances result in him deciding to count to a million and the whole community comes to cheer him on his way.

Like I said, it’s a quiet plot because we kind of already know that he succeeds in his quest, but I don’t quite think that the value of this book lies in that. I think that the value of this book lies in those soft and gently handled moments where Max tries to figure out his worries and his feelings in extraordinary times. Not only does Williams give you a lot of love and understanding here, he also gives you adults who are clearly just trying to do their best in difficult times.

I liked this. I think it may read a little younger than you might think in looking at it so don’t rule out a younger audience, and it would also be good to use in an educational context because there are a lot of discussions which will spark from it. It’s very thoughtfully put together by a publisher who knows how to work quickly with timely and relevant material whilst not cutting corners or quality. My thanks to them for a review copy.

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3 thoughts on “Max Counts To A Million by Jeremy Williams

  1. As a historically-minded kid, I always liked it when books referenced current or historical events. I love The Chalet School in Exile, and find it very irritating that the Abbey Girls somehow aren’t affected by either world war.

    I know that people say that it “dates” books, but that’s inevitable anyway. The publishers of Trebizon changed a reference to Bjorn Borg in the later editions, but the books are very obviously set in the late 70s/early 80s anyway, because a major plot revolves around someone recording something on a cassette player, so I don’t know why they bothered. Too many references to current events which don’t directly impact on the characters can be annoying – the early Adrian Mole books are meant to be about a teenage boy’s issues with school, parents, girlfriends, etc, but the constant references to early 1980s politics are probably a bit irritating to kids reading them now – but I think that books set within the pandemic and talking about the effects of lockdown and home schooling etc could be useful.

    As I understand it, the feeling in the late 1940s was that people wanted to move on from the war and that it shouldn’t be mentioned in children’s books, which is why the Chalet School books miss about three years, but times have changed and I think the feeling now is that “it’s good to talk”.


    1. I mean, I am ALWAYS here for essay comments! 🙂 I think your point about the benefit of ‘talking about lockdown’ is really important and something where this one shines. I also think that for a part of literature that thrives on ‘getting rid of the parents so the kids can have adventures’ it’s going to have fun working out where it stands on doing so with regards to things like lockdown and so on. It’s early days, and I suspect there will be some interesting takes coming out over the next few years.

      1. It’s all online now! My 10-year-old nephew and some of his friends set up their own Whatsapp group when they were self-isolating due to Covid sweeping their class. They held conference calls and all sorts. When I was 10, the height of technology was a Walkman!

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