In Freak the Mighty, why is Max nicknamed "Kicker" and what behavior earned him this?

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The answer to this question can be found in chapter 1, paragraph 2. Max explains that unnamed people call him "Kicker" because he had a tendency to kick anybody at day care that tried to touch him. He is especially averse to hugs.

Called me Kicker for a time – this was day care, the year Gram and Grim took me over – and I had a thing about booting anyone who dared to touch me. Because they were always trying to throw a hug on me, like it was a medicine I needed.

Gram and Grim are Max's grandparents, and they are taking care of Max. Max's father is in jail for murdering Max's mom. Max witnessed the traumatic event, so it only makes sense that caregivers would want to give Max hugs like medicine. It also makes sense that Max responds with violence. He's young, and he doesn't understand how to properly release his pent-up emotions. Max is aware of his kicking actions, and he makes games about it.

Instead, what happened, I invented games like kick-boxing and kick-knees and kick-faces and kick-teachers, and kick-the-other-little-day-care-critters, because I knew what a rotten lie that hug stuff was.

A bit later in the chapter, Max seems to indicate that he has kicked just about every single person and kid in his class except one. Max tells readers that he could not bring himself to kick Freak.

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Maxwell Kane went by many nicknames: Mad Max, Max Factor and Maxi Pad, "until I persuaded him otherwise." Because of his size and temperament--not to mention the notoriety of his father with the fearsome nickname, Kenny "Killer" Kane--it was inevitable that Max would have another moniker pinned upon him. "Kicker" was yet another of the nicknames he received. It was the name he went by when he first met Kevin in day care. Unsurprisingly, Max was called "kicker" because he liked to kick--and hated sympathy.

I had a thing about booting anyone who dared to touch me. Because they were always trying to throw a hug on me, like it was medicine.  (Chapter 1

He was proud of his nickname, and he "invented" different kicking games that included "kick-teachers and kick-the-other-day-care-critters." He believed the "hug stuff" was a "rotten lie"--a way to show sympathy for the big kid whose mother had just been killed before his eyes.

Of course, there was one later nickname that he loved above all else: "Freak the Mighty."

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What behavior earned Max the nickname "Kicker"? Why did he behave this way?  

In chapter 1 of Freak the Mighty, readers meet Max.  He is also the story's narrator.  In the second paragraph of chapter 1, Max tells his readers that his day care teachers used to call him "Kicker."  Max admits to readers that he used to say things with his fists and feet.  

Called me Kicker for a time—this was day care, the year Gram and Grim took me over, and I had a thing about booting anyone who dared to touch me. Because they were always trying to throw a hug on me, like it was a medicine I needed.

Max goes on to explain that he knew the hugs were a rotten lie.  The hugs weren't given out of love.  They were given out of pity because Max's father killed Max's mother, and Max witnessed the entire thing.  Instead of quietly accepting the lie and just tolerating the hugs, Max reacted violently and tried to fight off the fake hugs.  Max tells readers that he even made a game of it. 

Instead, what happened, I invented games like kick-boxing and kick-knees and kick-faces and kick-teachers, and kick-the-other-little-day-care-critters, because I knew what a rotten lie that hug stuff was.

The only person that Max never kicked with his kicking games was Kevin.

And for some reason little Kicker never got around to kicking little Freak. 

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What behavior earned Max the nickname "Kicker"? Why did he behave this way?  

On the very first page of Freak the Mighty, we learn that Max earned the name "Kicker" in daycare. According to Max, he would kick "anyone who dared to touch [him]." Without hesitation, Max would kick people who would hug him. Even as a child, Max could recognize that the hugs were "phony." 

One reason why Max may have decided to react in this manner could be related to his unstable upbringing. He started day care when his grandma and grandpa took him in as their own - later, we learn that Max's father is in prison and his mother is dead.

From Max's perspective, the hugs were a symbol of pity. People felt sorry for him due to his situation, but Max didn't accept their pity.

The only person he never kicked in daycare, we learn, is Freak. In the first chapter, Max argues that this was due to the fact that Freak used crutches. However, if you trace the relationship between Max and Freak throughout the book, you notice that Freak is the one person who doesn't pity Max. Instead, he builds him to reach his potential, boosts his confidence, and becomes his best friend. 

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In Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, what behavior earned Max the nickname "Kicker"? Why did he behave this way?

In Chapter One, Max discusses how he behaved in day-care the year that Grim and Gram took him under their legal guardianship. He felt like everyone was always trying to hug him, so he kicked people. He says that people gave him hugs like it was medicine that they felt he needed. He was also very angry, so his grandparents thought that if he was able to play with children his own age, then maybe he would make some friends and not feel angry anymore. Max elaborates by saying the following:

"Yeah, right! Instead, what happened, I invented games like kick-boxing and kick-knees and kick-faces and kick-teachers, and kick-the-other-little-day-care-critters, because I knew what a rotten lie that hug stuff was" (2).

It isn't until the end of the book that the reader finds out that Maxwell had actually seen his father kill his mother. This completely explains why such a young boy would not want hugs, and in fact, distrust them. In the beginning, though, the reader is left to infer that maybe he was just sad and angry that he had lost his mom. That is enough to make a child lose trust in people, but add to the reality that his father killed his mother and that creates deeper issues to be resolved. And it explains the kicking behavior.

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