Mighty Jack, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Mighty Jack, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Strong kids, soft heart propel thrilling graphic novel.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Interesting look at how different kids deal with something entirely new and very unsettling: One reacts with fear, another with curiosity and a drive to understand both the good and bad. Strong lessons on responsibility and coping with adversity. Child uses experimentation to find answers.

Positive Messages

Danger isn't always bad -- sometimes it's an inspiring challenge (provided you take reasonable safety precautions). Few things are all good or all bad. Families look after one another through ups and downs.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jack, though frustrated by the growing responsibility on his shoulders, is protective of his family and wants to do right by them. He works hard and looks after the rest of the family, and his mom recognizes and acknowledges his maturity. Jack's mom is clearly under a lot of stress. Though she and Jack argue, they have a close, loving relationship and appreciate each other's efforts and sacrifices. Lilly is curious and adventurous. She experiments with the garden plants to try to harness some of their magical qualities and enjoys battling the scary elements. Maddy is persistent and hardworking.

Violence & Scariness

Lots of fantasy violence: Monstrous plants in the garden attack children, who fight back with weapons including garden tools, swords, and a slingshot. Child injures head in fall. A scary creature carries off a child.

Language

Frustrated adult says "crap."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the graphic novel Mighty Jack is a modern reimagining of Jack and the Beanstalk with a hint of sci-fi. It's the first in a two-book series by Ben Hatke (Zita the Spacegirl). In this version, Jack takes on much of the care of his autistic younger sister while his single mom works two jobs to try to make ends meet. The seeds he helps plant sprout into a menacing, alien garden that seems to embody his ongoing nightmares. Jack, his sister, and their new friend Lilly disagree on whether the garden is too dangerous to keep. Creepy plants attack the kids, who need to carry weapons to protect themselves in the garden. A monstrous creature carries off a child, and a fall from a great height leads to a hospital visit.

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What's the story?

MIGHTY JACK is a spin on Jack and the Beanstalk: Jack meets a man offering a box of seeds he says will give Jack freedom. Jack's autistic sister, Maddy, urges him to trade their hardworking single mom's car for the seeds and sets out to plant the garden. The seeds quickly sprout, but the plants are like nothing they've ever seen: They're aggressive and monstrous, grabbing and chomping after the kids. Jack is worried, but Maddy and their thrill-seeking neighbor, Lilly, are excited by the strange things they find. After Jack encounters first a dragon and then a monster rising out of the earth, he takes drastic steps to keep his family and friend safe. One overlooked detail, however, forces Jack and Lilly to embark on a dangerous quest.

Is it any good?

Gorgeous artwork and carefully plotted action drive Ben Hatke's fantastical reworking of Jack and the Beanstalk, where Jack is a practical, reluctant hero nudged onward by two assertive girls. Hatke has a strong track record with great female characters (Zita the Spacegirl, Little Robot), and Mighty Jack is no exception. The fact that Maddy is generally mute never interferes with her heartfelt expressions of joy, stubbornness, and misery -- she's the emotional center of the story. For daring Lilly, knowledge is power. She turns the garden into a research project and tries to figure out how to navigate its dangers and harness its power.

Energetic illustrations, expressive characters, and a well-spun story make this a page-turner. Hatke's fans will be delighted with cameos by familiar characters from earlier books -- and eager for the second and final book to resolve the cliffhanger ending here.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way pictures do much of the storytelling in Mighty Jack. Do you think you would connect with it as well if it were written as a novel or movie?

  • Do you and your friends (or siblings or parents) ever disagree on what's exciting and what's scary?

  • What dangerous things have you successfully managed? What tools or preparation did you need to succeed?

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