Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke
Genre: Graphic Novel
Age category: Middle Grade
Release Date: September 5, 2017
It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book aimed at the younger crowd, something I like to do on occasion. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is actually the second of a two-book series by Ben Hatke, the first one simply being Mighty Jack. The story centers on a kid whose family is struggling–both in the financial sense and in the sense that there’s a growing space between them. When Jack and one of his neighbors start growing from strange plants that give them superhuman powers and lead them to another world, things get…complicated.
Most kid books nowadays have at least one “strong” female character in the cast, and this is an awesome trend to have. Girls should be shown standing up for themselves, defending others, fixing cars, doing math and science, and all the other things that used to be considered “guy” stuff. But many female side characters just kind of stop there. They come in, do the cool stuff, maybe make a quip about how girls aren’t as helpless as the hero thought, and then sort of step back and let the hero drive the plot.
Mighty Jack is not one of those books. Jack and Lilly each have their own problems they have to work through, and while they support each other, they also fight for themselves, too. Neither one of them is perfect. Both mess up, and they’re willing to own it. The relationship between them feels authentic, and they’ve both got to make some hard calls when the situation gets dire. Maddy also gets a chance to shine, despite being the youngest. (And I love that Ben Hatke included a character who struggles with her speech.)
The whole setting is vivid and well thought-out. It feels lived in. The magical creatures here have been doing their own thing for a while, and when these human kids drop in, it totally throws them off their game. Even the language used by them is fun and memorable. (One of my kids jokes now when someone gets a scrape that it’s an “injurtation.”)
Mighty Jack is marketed as a fairytale re-telling, but the author is willing to use the legend of Jack and the Beanstalk more as general inspiration and really take things in a whole, new magical direction. Also, on a final note, the title of this book is awesome. I know it sounds generic, but just trust me, it’s awesome. While audiences might be disappointed the series is only two books long, I’m glad it was allowed to be exactly the length it needed to tell a great story. And the characters do make a comeback in Ben Hatke’s latest book, Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl, a crossover work of his two amazing stories.
I wholly recommend this one.