Mighty Jack is an updated, sideways retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and the good news is that it is only just beginning. Jack is a boy having to take a lot of responsibility early. His mother works two jobs, his sister, Maddy, does not talk and cannot handle crowds, and he has to take care of her. When a clever stranger offers him freedom for seventy-five cents and the car keys, he takes the bargain. Soon he, his sister, and their neighbor, Lily, are tending the strangest garden anyone has ever seen, a garden full of plants that cuddle, run, bite, and that can give the kids new powers. It is exciting, but dangerous, and Jack finds himself facing a series of tough decisions without clear right answers.
Ben Hatke presents the family’s difficulties clearly: They are short on money; their mother clearly worries about the prices of things. Maddy is getting a lot of love, but not behavioral therapy. They’re not the upper-middle-class kids who still dominate the majority of children’s books. At the same time, the money and medical issues do not define them. Jack has to be more responsible because of them, but he’s also still a kid, and he, Maddy, and Lily have great adventures because of their new garden. Friendship and adventure are at the forefront of the tale; the circumstances allow more readers to find themselves in the adventure.
With few words and vivid pictures, Hatke shows who these people are, where they live, and how their summer is passing. Exuberant joy, danger, worry, and wonder fill the colorful pages of this book. The reader’s experience grows with repeated reading, with taking the time to look at the pages. Also, there is a brief look at a truly marvelous dragon.
Mighty Jack is a good book for new readers, for pre-readers, and for parents and children to read together. Some adults might even read it alone to admire the craftsmanship (and enjoy the story). The best thing is: This is only the first book. We will be seeing more of these kids, and these plants.
Mighty Jack is out from First Second on September 6, 2016. To order from Amazon, click the link in the title. It is also available in stores and libraries.