The Apartment: Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban
Dad was sitting in the orange armchair, ukulele in his lap. On the big TV was a movie, Big Bad Blues. The movies Max liked were action movies. This movie was a documentary, which meant nobody did anything.
Blue was another word for sad, Max knew.
"He should sing about pizza or rockets or car chases," said Max. "He'd be happier."
"Maybe when you feel bad, you can sing things that you can't find words to say otherwise," said Dad. "Maybe songs can help you sort through the sad or the bad or the uncomfortable."
Max knew about being uncomfortable.
It's uncomfortable visiting Dad on the weekend in his new apartment. Since the divorce, he's visited Dad at Grandma's house, which is fun, but Dad in an apartment makes Max feel sad, too. There's only one orange armchair and a television set in the living room. All the rooms are white. Even everything in the kitchen and bathroom is white--except the bedroom that Dad says is Max's. It's blue. It has blue curtains with football helmets, and the blue bedside lamp looks like a football helmet. Max isn't sure he likes blue best anymore.
What Max was feeling was like somebody was sitting on his chest.
Max had liked the Detroit Lions last year, when he was in second grade. He still liked the Detroit Lions now, but not as much.
"All set, sport?" asked Dad.
"I'm not a sport," said Max. "I'm a spy."
Things have changed for Dad and for Max. Max is into The Sneaky Book of Spy Skills and his action figure Stevicus, and Dad is trying to learn to play blues on his ukulele. There's no place for Max to sit except for the wood floor, which inspires his own blues song.
"I'm sad because my butt hurts. I've been sitting on the floor.
If I don't find a couch soon, baby, I won't come here no more."
But Dad is trying. He agrees to play Agent Cheese to Max's Agent Pepperoni. He swaps the lamp and curtains for red ones and offers to re-paint Max's room. He reads the sneaky skills book, and in disguise as spies he and Max go out for Ace's Restaurant for the Country's Best Bacon and Pineapple Pancakes, and the two shadow a mysterious man in the yellow shirt, giving Max a chance to teach Dad how to take sneaky spy photos. Then Dad leads Max into Ineeda Furniture, where together they choose a sofa named Olle.
Dad tells Max he is practicing to play his ukulele at the local open mic night, but then he points out that Doctor Spin's Club is not exactly kid-friendly. Max sees that sad guitar-man look on Dad's face and he feels blue when he thinks that maybe he's the reason Dad doesn't go. Dad assures him that the real reason is that he's not quite good enough for prime time. But on the next weekend Max meets the upstairs lady, Mrs. Tibbett, with her dogs Peggoty and Barkis, who lets him walk them in the park. Max confides his dilemma to her, and Mrs. Tibbett helps him plan for a surprise open mic party in the apartment for the next weekend.
The party is big success, with neighbors Mr. Polaski and his accordion and little Estelle on kazoo, but the next weekend brings a new problem. Max brings his best friend Warren along so that they can finish their animal habitat projects together. But Max forgets to bring the clay porcupine his mom helped him make and the shoebox, markers, and other materials to the apartment. But Dad, Warren, Ace, and Mrs. Tibbett pitch in to brainstorm last-minute substitute materials, and Max suddenly realizes that the somebody-sitting-on-his-chest feeling is gone.
Some days were house days and some days were apartment days. But both were home.
Award-winning author Linda Urban's latest, Weekends with Max and His Dad (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), achieves some surprising depth of understanding in this story of a father and son adjusting to a new family situation, with some pain and changes for both of them. Into the humor of this beginning chapter book, Urban brings poignant touches of insight by her well-drawn characters as Max and Dad make Max a new home away from home. Illustrator Katie Kath provides plenty of black-and-white drawings which evoke the emotions shared in this excellent short novel for the not-quite-middle reader set, one with a warm but realistic look at what it takes to make an apartment home.