Last year I reviewed Dangerous Pumpkins, the second book in Emily Jenkins' Invisible Inkling series, illustrated by the marvelous Harry Bliss. What first drew me to this book is Inkling himself. Inkling, invisible to everyone, is a bandapat, native to the Peruvian Woods of Mystery, or possibly the Ukranian Glaciers or perhaps the Redwood Forests of Cameroon. Inklinkg likes to mix things up. Inkling also needs lots of vitamin A and is therefore a lover of squash, especially pumpkin. In Dangerous Pumpkins, this proved almost disastrous as it was Halloween and pumpkins were everywhere and Inkling didn't quite understand that he couldn't eat every single one he saw. But the thing I really love about Jenkins and Bliss's books are the readability, page length and creativity. If you have a kid who has moved beyond chapter books like Magic Tree House but is not quite ready for the 300+ page fantasies that predominate, then these are the books for your reader!
Inkling lives in Brooklyn with Hank Wolowitz and his family. The Wolowitzs include teenage sister Nadia and mom and dad, who own and run the shop Big Round Pumpkin : Ice Cream for a Happy World. When Invisible Inkling : The Whoopie Pie War begins, Hank and his halfway friend Patne (Hank calls everyone by his last name) are at the shop helping Mr. Wolowitz make pumpkin ice cream, something he's never been able to perfect. While "helping," Hank also manages to secret some canned pumpkin into a baggie to take to Inkling to see what happens. But, being Hank, he ends up dropping the bag out the window of Nadia's room when he can't find Inkling. It makes a satisfying splat on the sidewalk a few floors below, but it causes no end of trouble for Hank. Besides the fact that he now has to find something else for Inkling to eat, Mr. Mnoonkin and his dog Rootbeer are sprayed in pumpkin and his mother makes him and Patne give Rootbeer a bath, reminding Hank that they are pacifists and do not drop things out of windows. But this turns out to be the least of Hank's problems. Betty-Ann has parked her food truck right in front of Big Round Pumpkin and she is selling whoopie pies filled with ice cream. And her business is booming. And business at Big Round Pumpkin is dropping off - drastically. Oh yeah, and Hank discovers a way to make the Invisible Inkling (temporarily) visible!
Jenkins has an amazing gift for winding a comfortable weirdness into her stories that make them more than memorable. And the oddities are limited to Inkling, who is quite a curiosity, invisible or not. Hank's mom sings him up for swimming lessons and he is not happy, although Inkling is, as bandapats are great swimmers as they are related to the otters of the Canadian underbrush. Hank is a poor swimmer because, as he determines, his brain gets "overbusy" while he swims. His imagination runs wild and he either swims crooked or, without realizing it, stops and stands in the middle of the lane without even realizing it as his overbusy brain spins out a story. He might be imagining that the indoor pool is actually his bedroom and one wall is covered with a long row of heated towels. Or, as he does the backstroke, he might be thinking about a shipwrecked kitten on a soggy raft that he must rescue. The thing is, he has been injured by the shipwreck, his stomach cut open and his insides spilling out, so he can only swim on his back as he makes his way to the mewling kitten. Hank and the kitten, who he names Hercules, survive on the raft and by the time they are rescued they have invented the language Humankitty. I love stuff like this!
But, what I really love is the way that Jenkins brings everything back around in her stories. Just when it seems like things are at their worst, Jenkins (in a chapter titled, "Your Predictions Are Wrong") resolves the various plot threads - from Betty-Ann's bad business practices to Mr. Wolowitz's mad drive to bake the perfect whoopie pie to Nadia and her halfway-friend Jacquie and her pygmy hedgehogs to swimming to killing Patne with kindness to Hanukkah ice cream (no, not latke and applesauce flavor, not eve gelt flavor!) - in a super satisfying and surprising way!
As with every Inkling book, Jenkins includes a "Note from the Author" in which she discusses various aspects of the story, from the setting (a blend of Brooklyn shops, parks and neighborhoods that Jenkins herself frequents) to subjects (Jenkins notes that Hank is an unreliable reporter and Inkling a big liar) to things like ice cream (Big Round Pumpkin is modeled after Blue Marble Ice Cream) and a brief breakdown of exactly what a whoopie pie is, for those who have not experienced their awesomeness, as Jenkins says. She modeled Betty-Ann's pumpkin ice cream whoopie pies after those she had at One Girl Cookies. Although on the opposite coast from One Girl Cookies, I was the luck recipient of a box of their pumpkin whoopie pies last year and they are truly, amazingly awesome!
Source: Review Copy