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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Science Fiction

Mighty Jack

Mighty Jack and the Goblin KingWe are thrust into the midst of the action, which never stops until the epilogue. This is how Ben Hatke tells a story.

We don’t know what’s going on. There’s no setup. Instead, we quickly learn that Jack is climbing some vegetative matter to find the ogre who kidnapped his sister Maddy and take her home. His friend, Lilly, no sidekick, is climbing alongside him.

The villains of the piece are rats, giants, and that ogre. They have control of a nexus point that exists outside of time and space, a connecting link between worlds. It looks like the tower of a castle built on an asteroid. The place has lost its luster because of the giants’ nefarious choices, among them the need to feed a human child to the machine that blocks the bridges between worlds. It’s satisfying to discover these plot points throughout the story.

Jack and Lilly are split up when Lilly falls from the vine (a rat is responsible). Jack vows to come back for her but he is compelled to find Maddy.

“This is not earth,” illustration from Jack and the Mighty Goblin King by Ben Hatke

The adventure takes off in two directions. Lilly is seriously hurt by the rats … and saved by the goblins who inhabit the lower reaches of the nexus point. The Goblin King demands that Lilly will be his bride. She has other ideas. In the “trash from all worlds,” she finds a Shelby Mustang. She will find a way to take it with her. Lilly is a hero in the truest sense of the word.

The goblins are the most endearing characters in the book. They are funny, resourceful, knowledgeable, and they care for Lilly. Their language is not exactly English and it suits them. Now we know how goblins communicate.

There are unanswered questions. Why can’t Maddy talk? Where did the magic seeds come from that give Jack and Lilly short bursts of needed power? Why is Jack’s mother’s house being foreclosed? These are the intriguing bits that encourage the reader to fill in the story, becoming one with the storyteller.

Hatke’s artwork is so much a part of the story that the book couldn’t be read out loud without showing the frames of the graphic novel. His brain creates exotic settings that invite lingering to absorb their oddness. His villains are dastardly, fearsome, inviting us to defeat them. The goblins are other-worldly but a little cuddly. (Just a little.) The color palette is spacey where appropriate,  convincingly subterranean when we’re in the goblin’s habitat, and quite richly appealing when the vegetation transforms. And that Shelby Mustang!

The book is filled with surprises. A turn of the page often brings an unexpected turn of events. Even the epilogue, often used to wrap up a story and tell us about the future, leaves us with a  sense of urgency: what will happen next?

There is a first book, Mighty Jack, which I have not read. It most likely creates the world in which Lilly, Jack, Maddy, and Phelix the dragon (!) live, but I’m very glad that a reader doesn’t have to first read that book to enjoy this one. I always hated going to my cousin Sig’s house, reading his comic books, never knowing where the stories were coming from or how they would end because they were published episodically. 

This is storytelling at its very best. Appealing, fun, hold-your-breath storytelling. I could have revealed that this is a re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story but it is so much more than that. Ben Hatke’s powers enchant his readers once again.

(Please be advised that this might have a PG13 rating because of some violence and one swear word. You’ll know best if this fits for your family.)

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
a graphic novel by Ben Hatke
color by Alex Campbell and Hilary Sycamore
published by First Second, 2017
ISBN 978-1-6267-226-68

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Outer Space Ambassador

alarm clockby Vicki Palmquist

Every once in a while I come across a book that wakes up that breathless, eager, sense-of-wonder-at-everything-new feeling I had about reading as a child. I admit it, after 3,000 or so books the plots and characters and resolutions can feel similar to something I’ve read before.

Well, I joyfully read a book that hit all the right notes and transported me back to a bedtime reading experience where I couldn’t turn off the light, fell asleep, and then woke up in the morning to finish the book before my feet hit the floor.

AmbassadorAmbassador by William Alexander is just that good.

I’ve enjoyed science fiction since my sixth grade teacher read aloud A Wrinkle in Time. Our entire classroom tried hard to tesseract. Thank you, Mr. Rausch! Then our librarian helped me find Eleanor Cameron’s Mushroom Planet books. There wasn’t much else in that genre for a sixth grade reader so I moved on to fantasy … but today’s readers have a wider variety of choices.

Will Alexander does what all good heroic journey authors do. He starts us in a comfortable, right-at-home setting and then takes us to places unimaginable. Gabriel Sandro Fuentes, who recently got into trouble for letting his friend Frankie set off a rocket, is selected to be the next Ambassador from Earth to The Embassy, where sentient beings from all over the universe gather for diplomacy. When the Envoy arrives, he tells Gabriel of his new responsibility. He should also give Gabe pointers on how to travel through his dreams to reach the Embassy and what to do when he gets there. But someone is trying to kill Gabe and the Envoy is busy defending him … by creating a black hole in the Fuentes’ dryer. A small one.

Alexander plants clues throughout the book. When Gabe and Frankie argue over who has more power, Zorro or Batman, the author is neatly setting up the theme in the book. I especially loved Gabe’s fascinating, intrepid, multi-talented, and present parents … up until Gabe’s father faces deportation. Alexander’s fresh descriptions, perceptions, and actions keep the reader upright, expectant, slightly nervous, and looking forward to turning the page.

This is the perfect book for most readers whether they have experienced science fiction or not. It’s first and foremost a rocket-fueled story with intrigue, humor, and a very likeable hero. Read it!

 

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The Fourteenth Goldfish

The versatile Jennifer L. Holm pens a fantasy this time around, but it’s a story suffused with humor and science, deftly asking a mind-blowing question: is it a good thing to grow old? So what happens when a 13-year-old boy shows up on your doorstep, arguing with your mom, who invites him in, and it […]

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Planet Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten

Books about getting ready for kindergarten and the first day in that Strange New Land are plentiful, but I can’t recall one that has drawn me into the experience as fully as Planet Kindergarten does. Every aspect of this book, from word choice to story to the detailed and clever drawings, puts this book at […]

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Return of Zita the Spacegirl

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Ben Hatke can’t conceive of, write, and draw these stories fast enough for me—and a host of other fans. Just released, this book follows Zita the Spacegirl (2010) and Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (2012). Doing the math, I know I won’t be reading the next installment until 2016. Whahhh. I’ve read so many stories […]

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Space Taxi

Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer, illus by Elise Gravel Little, Brown Books for Young Readers What a hoot! When eight-year-old Archie Morningstar gets up early in the morning for his first Take Your Kid to Work Day, he never imagines that his taxi-driving dad in their rickety cab is actually […]

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Aliens and Nature

My thanks to Katherine House, who sent word that illustrator John Schoenherr passed away on April 8th at the age of 74. I have admired his work in two fields for many years—I am saddened by the loss of this prodigious and pioneering talent. Born in 1935, Mr. Schoenherr (he was known as Jack) grew […]

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