In this rhyming picture book, Maxwell the monkey opens his jungle barbershop to numerous wild animals with equally wild hair: a baboon with a mass of curls, a lion with a beastly mane, and a bear with sprawling facial hair. Each animal leaves Maxwell’s barbershop feeling better and knowing how fantastic he looks. But when Elephant comes in with no hair at all, Maxwell vows to think of something to keep this sad pachyderm’s head warm.
As Cale Atkinson has shown in his previous books, To the Sea and Explorers of the Wild, he is adept at creating illustrations that capture the attention of young readers. The exaggerated facial expressions of the characters convey great emotion: animals go from looking aghast or forlorn to basking in their new hairdos with full-on toothy grins. The vibrant palette of predominantly orange, blue, and green is playful, as is Atkinson’s choice of hiding a little mouse for readers to spot on each page. This seek-and-find is well set up: a small mouse peeks out from behind a jar of hair tonic on the title page, and readers will wonder where he is and how he fits into the story as they read on.
While the book is strong visually, its rhythms are at times clumsy, with shifting cadences and some near-rhymes calling attention to themselves (e.g. high/inside, wild/style). What will engage young readers textually is the refrain expressed in a speech bubble by each animal after his haircut. Atkinson includes other such bubbles throughout the story, adding visual and textual variety.
With its simple theme of helping others, Maxwell the Monkey Barber is most suited to children at the lower end of the recommended age range, as preschoolers and kindergarteners will certainly enjoy its exuberance.