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Inkling

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Inkling Book Poster Image
Live ink blob helps family cope with loss in touching tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Talks about the creative process, a little about how comic books are made, and references a lot of books including The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The BFG, The Old Man and the Sea, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Positive Messages

Encourages a healthy media diet -- action-packed but not meaningful comics should be mixed with quality books that make you think and learn. Also, grief and loss are shown clearly here, and what it takes to keep going after a loss.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ethan struggles with doing the right thing when Inkling can do his drawing work for a school project much better than he can. In the end, Ethan does some of the art himself, with Inkling's instruction. In other ways, he's a patient, kind, and responsible brother to his younger sister with Down syndrome and patient with his father's checked-out parenting, knowing that he is still grieving the loss of his wife/Ethan's mother.

Violence

Many memories of mother getting sick and being in the hospital and then being gone. No talk of the specific illness. Inkling, a sentient blob of ink that can draw anything, is chased by two creatures who want to eat it. A fear of suffocation. A boy remembers being kicked by a mean girl. Scenes of extremely violent comics talked about -- kids aren't allowed to see them.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Mention of a Twinkie. Chapter book names are real, comic books aren't. Neither is the brand of drone flown in one scene.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Dad drinks wine every evening and with dinner. Memory of parents drinking wine in the park.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Inkling is a thoughtful and creative read by Kenneth Oppel, the acclaimed Canadian author of The Nest, The Boundless, and Every Hidden Thing. As in The Nest, there are themes of loss mixed with fantasy elements. Here, Ethan, a middle schooler, has lost his mother. His grieving father's sketchbook spits out Inkling, a sentient blob of ink that can move, communicate, devour books, and draw. Violence is mild beyond the memories of a mother lost to sickness. Inkling is nearly devoured, and Ethan fears suffocation. The only other mature content: Dad drinks wine every evening. Ethan struggles with doing the right thing when he discovers that Inkling can do his drawing work for a school project much better than he can. In other ways, he's a patient, kind, and responsible brother to his younger sister with Down syndrome. Inkling encourages a healthy media diet -- not just fun comic books -- to turn kids into thoughtful humans. Many great books are mentioned.

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What's the story?

In INKLING, a blob of ink escapes from a comic book artist's sketchbook late one night. He's chased by a cranky old cat into a boy's room, where he begins to feed on words. He finds the boy's school project, a comic book, and fills in his stick figures with detailed art. The boy, Ethan, finds the art and is amazed -- just as he is when he meets this blob of ink that can write words to talk (thanks to his book diet). He decides to call him Inkling and is tempted to keep him all to himself. Except that his father, the famous comic book artist, has had a creative block ever since his wife (Ethan's mother) died. Inkling broke free of Dad's sketchbook and can even see into his dreams, which are sad and haunted by his loss. Ethan decides to share Inkling with his dad, to see if it helps him create again. They both rely on Inkling until he goes missing under suspicious circumstances.

Is it any good?

A cute ink blob explores the mystery of the creative process and brings a mourning family together in this compelling novel. Acclaimed Canadian children's author Kenneth Oppel has done a similar melding of fantasy and family loss elements before in The Nest, but this one doesn't have the same creepy edge. This ink blob is a far more lovable creature than The Nest's strange angel-wasps. And one that brings a Mary Poppins sense of magic into the family's lives.

Sarah, the sister with Down syndrome, benefits the most from Inkling's sense of whimsy. Ethan and his father benefit from his skill and his drive to find a family secret that can heal them. When Inkling goes missing, the loss feels more profound; this family doesn't need another setback. But like Mary Poppins, Inkling's goal is to bring them together before he disappears, and to make them self-reliant and whole again. Inkling is a poignant and succinct read with some clever touches. The ending feels a little predictable, but satisfies on an emotional level.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the Inkling in Inkling represents. How is it connected to the sketchbook? To Mr. Rylance? How is it different?

  • What does this book say about good reading habits?

  • What kind of media diet do you have? 

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love family stories and grief tales

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