Invisible Inkling: Dangerous Pumpkins, written by Emily Jenkins with illustrations by Harry Bliss, 154 pp, RL 3

When Invisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins with illustrations by Harry Bliss came out in April of 2011 it caught my eye. Harry Bliss is a fantastic illustrator and Emily Jenkins is the author of some of my favorite picture books and chapter books (scroll down for details on her other works, including one of the best YA books EVER written under a pseudonym.) And, as a long time fan of lemurs as well as invisible friends, Invisible Inkling looked to be a surefire win-win situation. A year later, the publication of Dangerous Pumpkins, (and the fact that my son can now read these books on his own) has inspired me to delve into the world of Inkling, the bandapat native to the Peruvian Woods of Mystery, or maybe the Ukrainian Glaciers, or possible the redwood forests of Cameroon. The star of our story (and Inkling will probably disagree with this) is the newly friendless Hank Wolowitz, fourth grader at New York's PS 166. Hank's parents run the shop the Big Round Pumpkin: Ice Cream for a Happy World, which is a few doors down from the apartment where they live. Mom and Hank's teenage sister Nadia run the counter, Dad makes the ice cream and Hank, grudgingly, takes out the trash and recycling. A particular sore spot is the fact that Hank's dad has used two of Nadia's flavor creations (espresso double shot and cinnamon mocha) and never even tried any of Hank's (Cheddar Bunnies and green Jell-O pineapple, to name a few.) One day while at the shop, Hank reaches under the sink and feels something furry. Later, he notice a waffle cone being nibbled away by an unseen something. Later, Hank rescues the invisible (NOT imaginary) creature from Rootbeer, the neighbor dog, and, due to the bandapat code of honor, Inkling must stay with Hank until he can return the favor. In book one, Inkling does his best to help Hank deal with a bully and get over the lonely hole left by Wainscoting, his best friend who moved away. (Illustrations below are from Invisible Inkling as no artwork from  Dangerous Pumpkins was available on line at the time of this review.)

Bandapats need lots of Vitamin A, and, as the supply of squash in his native land, whatever it really is, is diminishing, Inkling ventures into Brooklyn and hits the jackpot at the Big Round Pumpkin. In book two, Dangerous Pumpkins, he also scores big as Halloween approaches and people start putting out their decorations. It takes everything Hank has to convince Inkling that he CANNOT eat the jack-o-lanterns, but it is hard work. Hank's social life has not improved much since the first book. He has no one to go trick-or-treating with and does not look forward to another year of being "looked after" by Nadia and her teenage friends who like to scare little kids while their folks keep the shop open. Add to that the fact that, once again, Hank's dad has chosen Nadia's special Halloween flavor (Candy Crunch) over all of Hank's ideas (Mummy Toenail, Black Spiderweb, Dead Scarecrow and Loose Tooth - there is a great illustration along with flavor details that actually sound yummy in the book) and the fact that Inkling devours Nadia's contest entries (four "dangerous pumpkins," pumpkins with extreme carvings) leaving Hank to take the blame, and things seem pretty bleak.

Jenkins balances this nicely with bright (but not always easy) spots like (Sasha, last names only for Hank) Chin, Hank's downstairs neighbor who, while she is in his grade and is "a really good drummer and excellent at playing alien school children" while also helping to build a matchstick replica of the Taj Mahal after school, also has a "whole ballerina side" to her that Hank just doesn't get. Also, all her other friends are girls and Hank does not want to go trick-or-treating with a bunch of tutus. But, Chin is not all she seems (two words: zombie ballerinas) and, in the end, Nadia isn't as mean as she seems either. While Hank still has to deal with embarrassment and disaster at the hands of the bandapat, Inkling is there for him at his loneliest moments and the two friends need each other more than they realize.

Harry Bliss's illustrations have the perfect balance of humor and reality, making Hank's story all the more believable and Inkling irresistible, even if the reader is the only one who can see this pumpkin-loving-troublemaker. A third Invisible Inkling book is due out next year! Don't miss this very funny interview with Emily and Inkling...

Source: Review Copy

Emily Jenkins is also the author of the wonderfulToys Go Out Trilogy, with illustrations by the Caldecott award winning Paul O Zelinsky. I hate to be reductionist, but these books are sort of The Doll People for the younger crowd. With stuffed animals instead of dolls. They make for great bedtime read-out-louds as they are short, funny and not too suspenseful. And the bath towels talk. Jenkins has quite the imagination!

As I mentioned above, Emily Jenkins is also a wonderful picture book author and, as with her chapter books, she is always paired with brilliant illustrators from Sergio Ruzzier to Alexandra Boiger to Lauren Castillo. I am especially excited to see Jenkins' new book, Water in the Park, illustrated by a new favorite of mine, Stephanie Graegin. Emily's book excellent book, A Little Bit Scary People, made my Best Picture Books of 2008 list.

Finally, in 2008 using the name E Lockhart, Jenkins wrote what, for me, is the closest I think we'll every get to a version of Catcher in the Rye with a girl protagonist. And, because this book was written now and not sixty years ago, our heroine is not suffering from the onset of her nineteenth nervous break down as the bell jar descends, but she is smart, brave and unwilling to let the boys call all the shots, have all the fun and rule the school. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, National Book Award Finalist and Printz (the teen version of the Newbery) Honor winner, is a must read for smart girls. If you have anyone in your life who might enjoy this book now or later, please read my review and take note!

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