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Ken Wilson-Max (1965–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writing, Sidelights

Born 1965, in Harare, Zimbabwe; Education: Attended London College of Printing. Hobbies and other interests: Basketball, squash, football, films, looking at magazines, watching television.


Agent—Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.


Graphic designer and illustrator. Barkers Advertising and Marketing, Harare, Zimbabwe, designer, 1985–86; Orchard Books, London, England, book designer, 1986–88; BBC Books, London, book designer, 1988–90; David Bennett Books, St. Albans, England, assistant art director, 1992; freelance designer, 1992–. Worked as an illustrator for Moto magazine, designer/typographer for Next Wave design, and designer/finisher for Artist Prontaprint UK; designer of furniture and other objects for retail outlet in Harare, Zimbabwe.


Graphic Designers Association of Zimbabwe.

Ken Wilson-Max (Photograph reproduced by permission.)

Honors Awards

Illustration of the Year designation (Harare, Zimbabwe), 1985; bronze medal, Brno Biennale, 1986, for illustration for Moto magazine; Best Advertisement designation, Annual Advertising Awards (Harare, Zimbabwe), for animation; Children's Choice selection, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council, 1996, for Little Red Plane.



The Sun Is a Bright Star, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1995.

Big Yellow Taxi, David Bennett (St. Albans, England), 1995.

Big Blue Engine, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Audra Wilson-Max) Great Day Out: African Life, African Words, Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), 1996.

Little Red Plane, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Audra Wilson-Max) Let's Play: African Life, African Words, Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), 1996.

Little Green Tow Truck, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.

Big Silver Spaceship, David Bennett (St. Albans, England), 1997.

Big Red Fire Engine, David Bennett (St. Albans, England), 1997.

Wake up, Go to Sleep, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1997.

Big Silver Space Shuttle, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.

Dexter Gets Dressed!, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 1998.

Halala Means Welcome: A Book of Zulu Words, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

Max, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

Max Loves Sunflowers, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

Max's Letter, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.

L Is for Loving: An ABC for the Way You Feel, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.

Max's Money, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.

Furaha Means Happy: A Book of Swahili Words, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.

Ken Wilson-Max Presents Zelda in the City, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Max Paints the House, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.

Long Train: 101 Cars on the Track, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Max's Starry Night, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

A Book of Letters, illustrated by Manya Stojic, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.

Firefighter: Thirty Years from the Home of Underground Rock, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2005.

Motorcycle Police: Thirty Years from the Home of Underground Rock, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2005.


Juwanda G. Ford, K Is for Kwanza: A Kwanza Alphabet Book, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.

Judith Bauer Stamper, Tic-Tac-Toe: Three in a Row, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.

Angela Shelf Medearis, Best Friends in the Snow, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Liza Baker, Flush the Potty!, Scholastic, (New York, NY) 2000.

Ian Whybrow, Good Night, Monster!, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.

Susanna Leonard Hill, The House That Mack Built, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2002.

Joan Holub, Kwanzaa Kids, Puffin Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Alison Inches, Snuggle up, Buttercup, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.

Dakari Hru, Tickle, Tickle, Roaring Brook Press (Brook-field, CT), 2002.

Alison Inches, Wake up, Buttercup, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.

Rebecca O'Connell, The Baby Goes Beep, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.

Karen Baicker, I Can Do It Too!, Handprint Books (Brooklyn, NY), 2003.

Aamir Lee Bermiss, I Hate to Be Sick, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

W. Nikola-Lisa, Setting the Turkeys Free, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.

Malachy Doyle, Splash, Joshua, Splash!, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2004.

Marjorie Newman, Just like Me, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2005.

Suen Anastasia, Red Light, Green Light, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.

Karen Baicker, You Can Do It Too!, Handprint Books (Brooklyn, NY), 2005.

Judy Cumberbatch, Can You Hear the Sea?, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2006.


Ken Wilson-Max originally joined the world of children's literature as a book designer for the London-based publishers Orchard and BBC Books, then worked as an assistant art director for David Bennett Books. It was not until 1992 that Wilson-Max capitalized on his talents, which extended beyond designing to writing and illustrating. In 1995 he published his first self-illustrated picture books: The Sun Is a Bright Star and Big Yellow Taxi. Among his other works is 1996's Little Red Plane, which was selected a Children's Choice title by the International Reading Association/Children's Book Council.

Critics often describe Wilson-Max's illustrations as vibrant, colorful, and bold, and make note of the artist's signature style: a use of simple shapes embroidered with heavy black outlines. Wilson-Max is also known for his ability to pull children into stories through the interactive elements he employs in many of his books. For instance, in Little Red Plane a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Wilson-Max engages readers by allowing them to "shift a steering wheel from side to side, [while] the view of through the windshield shifts too."

In addition to being entertaining, Wilson-Max's books also educate youngsters in the variety of cultures existing in the world. In Halala Means Welcome: A Book of Zulu Words he introduces young readers to a young boy named Chidi, who lives in post-apartheid South Africa. In this bilingual picture book readers follow Chidi and his friend Michael as they spend the day together, while the English and Zulu words for objects that the characters interact with are incorporated into the text. The book also includes a pronunciation guide that allows readers to fully experience the Zulu language. Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman noted that Halala Means Welcome allows readers to "recognize the universal friendship story even as they have fun learning the simple vocabulary [and] practicing how to make the 'click' sound."

With the publication of Furaha Means Happy: A Book of Swahili Words Wilson-Max introduces young readers to the Swahili language by mixing a simple dictionary within the text of the story. In his tale, Wambui and her Ken Wilson-Max's bold illustrations for the interactive board book Flush the Potty! encourage young toddlers to master an important skill. (Text and illustrations copyright © 2000 by Ken Wilson-Max. Reprinted by permission of Scholastic Inc.)brother Moses take a trip to the Kenyan zoo with their parents. In the tradition of Halala Means Welcome, Furaha Means Happy provides a section that teaches children how to pronounce the Swahili words featured within the book and also includes a map of Africa. In addition, Furaha Means Happy engages readers beyond its story and instruction; it also charms youngsters through its illustrations. School Library Journal reviewer Alicia Eames notes that "Wilson-Max's choice of rich, full bodied color and the use of bold black outlines give his illustrations instant appeal."

Tickle Tickle, written by Dakari Hru, focuses on the loving bond between father and son when a father playful tickles his infant son. In his role as illustrator, Wilson-Max employs rounded, colorful images to help depict the lively interaction between the two. Anna DeWind Walls, writing in School Library Journal, noted that the artist's illustrations "burst off the pages" and "capture the rambunctious activity perfectly."Wilson-Max also illustrates Ian Whybrow's Good Night, Monster!, using his signature bold colors and thick black lines to portray the farm animals and monsters inhabiting Whybrow's tale. In Booklist Ilene Cooper commented that the book's artwork "invites children to turn the page."

Wilson-Max once told SATA: "I learned about art and design in a very unique way and will always be grateful to those who took the time to persuade me to open my mind and look for that spark of hope and possibility that starts the creative juices flowing, particularly Chaz Maviyane Davies, who in my view started me going.

"I've lived in London all my adult life and it is as much a part of me as Zimbabwe was a part of my childhood. The decision to make either of these places my permanent home is therefore never easy to make and is as yet unresolved.

"I've always observed and drawn, made notes and sketches, had ideas and tried to bring them to life, especially those of a three-dimensional variety. I would ideally like to make books and objects for children simultaneously. As a consequence most of the work travels across several different formats, from books to merchandise.

"During the early stages of a new project I tend to do quite a few colour sketches to get into character. The illustrations are intended to be honest, contemporary, and as real in tone and feeling as possible, not to mention fun! It is important to maintain this set of values in my mind while working.

"I enjoy playing most sports, especially basketball, football, and squash. Films and laughing are my favourite pastimes, as well as looking at magazines (not buying them), reading, and watching television. I get my ideas from these places."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, August, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Halala Means Welcome: A Book of Zulu Words, p. 201; August, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Good Night, Monster!, p. 1977.

Publishers Weekly, August 21, 1995, review of Little Red Plane, p. 64.

School Library Journal, October, 2000, Alicia Eames, review of Furaha Means Happy: A Book of Swahili Words, p. 142; August, 2002, Anna DeWind Walls, review of Tickle Tickle, p. 158.


Bloomsbury Web site, http://www.bloomsbury.com/ (April 8, 2006), "Ken Wilson-Max."

IdeasforChildren.com, http://www.ideasforchildren.com/ (April 8, 2006), "Ken Wilson-Max."

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