Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange for the review copies of these books! All opinions are my own.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am very new to graphic novels. My kids love them, and they are very popular at the school library, so I’m doing more research on them than ever. When these Mighty Jack novels by Ben Hatke became available for review, I knew I had to read them! A twist on the Jack and the Beanstalk story, in a graphic novel? Yes, please! I love a twisted fairy tale, and these are most definitely twisted.
In the first novel, Mighty Jack, we meet Jack, his mom, and Jack’s younger sister, Maddy, who happens to be autistic. Jack has a lot of responsibility over the summer since his mom works several jobs to make ends meet. He has to watch his sister, who he loves, but it can be difficult since she doesn’t speak. One day at the flea market, Maddy does speak, to tell Jack that he needs to buy a box of magical seeds from a sketchy vendor. He does, and when they plant the seeds at home, it’s more than a regular garden. A massive, overgrown, magical garden springs to life (including a dragon and monsters, of course), and Jack, Maddy, and their friend Lilly must figure out how to tame the garden, before it completely takes over their world.
The first novel ends with Maddy being taken by an ogre into that magical plant world. The second novel, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, picks up with Jack and Lilly following the ogre and racing through a magical world to find Maddy before the ogres take her life. A group of goblins helps them along the way, and each character must face their own fears, and come to terms with their new reality, in order to escape.
These graphic novels are so good! I think any middle grader who enjoys twisted fairy tales or graphic novels will love these. There are some heavy topics involved, so I would recommend them for ages 9 or 10 and up, but they’re also a lot of fun. The kids go on some big adventures, and they have to learn to work together, and around their differences, to survive.
I also love that while Maddy is a main character with a big role, and her autism simply highlights how she reacts differently to situations and how Jack and Lilly accommodate her, while still including her. She only speaks when something is really, really important to her, and she doesn’t let that disability stop her from having the same adventures.
Mighty Jack and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King are fantastic middle grade graphic novels, and wonderful retellings of Jack and that old beanstalk. I can’t wait for Ben Hatke to write the next in this series!