Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, 208 pp, RL 4

Five years ago I reviewed my first book by Ben Hatke and I was immediately hooked. You can read my reviews of all of his books here. After a couple of picture books and a mostly wordless graphic novel, I am very excited to be reviewing the first in a new trilogy, Mighty Jack, a play on the old fairy tale with a garden full of enormous plants and some serious sword play. And, as always, you can expect strong girl characters who share equal page time with the titular Jack.

Hatke is a gifted visual story teller and Mighty Jack is driven by the illustrations with spare but meaningful dialogue, including lots of great onomatopoetic expressions. He begins the his story with Jack being awakened from a dream. His mother is out the door, on the way to the flea market. Past due bills can be seen on the counter as Jack grabs breakfast to go. In the car, she explains that she is going to work two jobs this summer and will need Jack to help more with Maddy, his younger sister who is on the spectrum. At the flea market (where fans of Hatke's will spot characters from past graphic novels), Jack's mother gives him money to buy food and the keys to the car in case Maddy needs to get away from the crowds. But when the non-verbal Maddy speaks, emphatically telling Jack that he has to make a deal with the suspiciously friendly man sitting behind a table with a sign that says, "Just Stuff," Jack makes a deal - his mom's car for an ornate wooden box filled with packets of seeds.

Maddy is up and early the next day, planting a garden. Jack helps, happy to see her busily at work, but also apprehensive. What grows from the seeds is both amazing and frightening and Jack is not sure how to handle it, especially since Maddy is so attached to the garden. Happily, a homeschooled neighbor who is also a fencer, stops by. Lilly is soon helping Jack and Maddy while also pocketing seeds and cuttings as she goes. Hatke's marvelous imagination blooms in Maddy's garden, from adorable little onion-headed babies to menacing melons with vine-y legs. The presence of Wormweed, eradicated from earth for thousands of years, even calls forth a dragon from another realm. Jack, Maddy and Lilly even begin to sample the fruits of the garden, reveling in the magical powers each plant gives them. Eventually, though, Maddy is injured and Jack discovers a plant that drives him to destroy the garden.

Thinking that the adventure is over, Jack discovers that both Maddy and Lilly have been keeping secrets and a new adventure begins. This time, though, Jack is well equipped with fencing gear and an equally brave and strong partner at his side.

Ben Hatke, fencing!

Source: Review Copy

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