Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Mighty Jack…

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Today I’m bringing you another Ben Hatke graphic gem because Ben Hatke is awesome.  I picked up Mighty Jack from the library a week or two ago and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed it even more than the Zita the Spacegirl books.  It’s a big call I know, but bear with me.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jack might be the only kid in the world who’s dreading summer. But he’s got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s boring, too, because Maddy doesn’t talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. It’s the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

mighty jack

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Fantasy, fractured fairy tales

Art Style:

Ben Hatke style!

Reading time:

Took me about half an hour total spread over two sittings

Let’s get gabbing:

I’m going to dispense with reiterating how much I love Ben Hatke’s illustrative style and adorable original creatures and just get on with talking about the story.  Although, if you’ll indulge me, this series has a ridiculously cute little onion headed species that Mad Martha is dying to recreate in yarn, but as she doesn’t have the time just now, we’ll have to wait for that particular treat.

This is the good old fashioned kids-stumbling-upon-hidden-magic-right-in-their-own-backyard combined with meeting-a-friend-with-a-bizarrely-cool-skill style of fantasy that anyone who has loved fantasy and magic stories since childhood will definitely appreciate.  Since Jack’s mum has to work two jobs just to make ends meet, Jack is often left to look after his little sister Maddy, who is nonverbal.  When Maddy wanders off at a local market, Jack manages to find her talking to some strange people (who you will certainly recognise if you have read the Zita the Spacegirl series!!) and ends up trading his mum’s car for a box of seed packets when Maddy unexpectedly starts talking.

When the kids plant the seeds in the yard they’re in for a massive shock – because the garden that sprouts is full of sentient plants, adorable onion-headed creatures and some vines that are a bit too grabby for comfort.  When Jack’s swordplay-mastering, home-schooled neighbour Lilly (oh, I’ve only just realised that she has a botanical name…coincidence?) turns up to help out, Jack has to decide whether to trust her and let her into the family’s troubles or take the easy route and keep shutting everyone out.

I love, love, love, love this story.  Apart from the fantasy elements (enormous snails, anyone?) there is a strong subplot about acceptance, trust and the perils of relying on oneself when others are willing to contribute.  Mighty Jack doesn’t have the humorous undertones of the Zita series, relying instead on a sense of adventure and risk to drive a suspenseful, but exhilarating plot.  Once again Hatke has created female characters that are full of depth, with unexpected skills and for this reason, the book will appeal to both boys and girls.  There’s a certain echo of the Spiderwick Chronicles in this story, but Hatke has done it better.  I really can’t wait now to get my paws on the second book in the series – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – by hook or crook.

 

Overall snapshot:

This is another brilliant addition to Hatke’s growing catalogue of work.  If you haven’t yet introduced his graphic novels or picture books to your younglings, you must really correct that oversight because these are modern classics that deserve to be re-read again and again.

Until next time,

Bruce

Scaling Mount TBR: My Name is Leon

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This one may have only been on my TBR list for six months, but by gum it feels good to knock it over anyway.  We received a copy of My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal from the publisher via Netgalley, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And the only way home is to find him.

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because Jake is white and Leon is not.

As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we somehow manage to find our way home.

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There is a certain charm to books for adults that feature a child protagonist and My Name is Leon certainly exhibits that charm throughout.  Leon is an immediately likable lad, with his fierce loyalty to his mother despite her obvious flaws and unfathomable depth of love for his baby brother Jake.  His foster carers, Maureen and then Sylvia, are also lovable in different ways, while the folk from the allotment grow on the reader with every interaction.  The laid-back but determined Tufty steps in as a replacement father figure for Leon in some ways and while Mr Devlin has a few odd behaviours on the outside, he proves himself to be one who can be counted on in a pinch.

The main focus of the story of course, is Leon’s up-and-down life as he bounces between foster homes, loses his brother to adoption and waits for his mother to get his act together.  This alone would have been a rich vein to mine, but de Waal has also included a sideplot about race riots that, while relevant to Leon and his situation, seemed slightly out of place with the tone of the rest of the story.  Having said that, it does provide a rather exciting end to what could have otherwise been a reasonably predictable story arc!  I would have liked to see a bit of information about this part of the story in an author’s note – were the events based on actual events, and if so, where and when and in what social context did these happen?  If not, why were they included?

Overall, this is an uplifting story that shows the reality of many foster children’s lives today, even though it is set in the 1980s.  The story did feel a bit hefty at times, particularly in the middle, as Leon is developing his relationship with the folk of the allotments, but the richness of the relationships developed between the characters is a satisfying pay-off for this.

Until next time,

Bruce