Category: Middle Grade

Review: Mighty Jack Graphic Novels

Mighty Jack           Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

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!


Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book

“It will take more than just a couple of good hearted souls to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard.”

I picked this book up on a whim. I was in the mood for something spooky, something quick, and something a little different. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is definitely all of those things, and then some. While this book is perfect for a spooky fall read, I would recommend this for any time of year. It is categorized as a middle grade novel, but I enjoyed it a lot, and there are some big things going on in the book that make reading it as an adult even more meaningful.

Nobody Owens, a living boy, lives in a graveyard. After his family was murdered (quite violently) when he was 18 months old, he managed to escape his house and wound up in a graveyard. The resident ghosts decided that rather than turn him back to the world of the living, where the killer is still searching for Nobody, they will raise him and teach him how to do ghostly things, in addition to reading and writing. As Nobody grows older, he begins to wonder what lies beyond the graveyard, and gets into some trouble as he tries to discover who he really is, and where he really belongs.

This book is weird. It is also beautiful . . . in a weird way. I love that it takes the trope of a child being raised by animals (Gaiman thanks Rudyard Kipling in the Acknowledgements) and twists it into a story of a child being raised by ghosts in a graveyard. But even with that strange setting, it is still simply the story of a precocious child looking for adventure. His adventures just happen to include ghouls, hellhounds, and a probable vampire.

Older kids will love the graveyard setting and the wild adventures Nobody goes on. Adults will appreciate the deeper story at work here: a child who is growing up and wants to leave him, even as he still feels the pull of staying with his family and what he knows. There’s a particular scene that I just love, when Nobody is complaining to a group of ghouls about how unfair his ghost parents are and how they don’t understand him. It’s proof that no parent can win, no matter how different and cool they seem.

The Graveyard Book is wonderful, beautiful, weird, and a little heartbreaking. I read it in two days, so if you’re looking for a last-minute spooky Halloween read, this one is perfect.


Review: Wishtree


Texas Girl Reads received a copy of this book from the Kid Lit Exchange Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

“Making others feel safe is a fine way to spend your days.”

As a child, I was one of those people who believed that their stuffed animals had real feelings. I just knew they hurt when I hurt, they were happy when I was happy, and they were definitely chatting with each other when I wasn’t around. In Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, a similar concept is visited, but instead it is nature that thinks, feels, and talks, namely a giant red oak named, what else, Red. I loved this book, for more than the novelty of a talking tree. Wishtree addresses a larger issue at hand, one that unfortunately seems to be more common these days, and that is of the equality of human beings. Wishtree is a great book on its own, but it is a wonderful way to gently introduce the one of the hard topics we NEED to be talking about with our kids.

Red is a giant red oak tree who has lived in the neighborhood for a very long time. He is hundreds of rings old, and has watched families come and go, some welcome and some not. Red and Red’s best friend, a crow named Bongo, help other animals take shelter in Red’s branches and watch over the neighborhood. Animals who would normally eat each other in nature live in peace under the old oak. Red is also the neighborhood “wishtree”-each year, children and adults write a wish on a piece of paper or material and tie it to Red’s branches, hoping their wishes will come true. When Samar and her family move in, she wishes to make a new friend. Her family is Muslim, and not everyone is happy to see them. Red breaks all the rules to help her wish come true, but will it come at the cost of her long and distinguished life?

I love the concept of this old tree having seen so much over the years, and showing how different animals in nature get along, even though people can’t always figure that out. Kids will love reading about Red and Bongo and all the silly squabbles the other animal groups have, but they will learn a much more important lesson after reading Wishtree. While I do wish that Applegate had written Samar as a more rounded character, Samar does experience a real situation of people not wanting her family around because they’re different. This is incredibly important to talk to kids about, instead of pretending those problems don’t exist. It is a simply-written story that handles some heavy subject matter in a gentle way.

Wishtree is an excellent book to introduce the tough subjects of racial inequality and tolerance to younger kids, and will open up different questions at every age level. This is categorized as middle grade, but I really think it’s more for elementary grades. I would suggest ages 6-10. This would be a wonderful book to read aloud, to allow questions to come as the story goes on, as well as to add anything you as a parent or educator want to include. Wishtree is a beautiful book and couldn’t come at a more important time in our country, when we all need to come together under our own wishing trees and work together with our children to inspire real change.


Wishtree will be published on September 26, 2017.


Review: The Emperor’s Ostrich

The Emperor’s Ostrich

Texas Girl Reads received a copy of this book from the Kid Lit Exchange Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Know this, my girl: the things you’re doing now, at this marvelous age in your life, aren’t going to waste. All your reliable, responsible choices are building a brain, a heart, and a pair of hands ready to tackle anything life sends your way.

I love fantasy books, and I’m always on the lookout for good middle grade books in that category. (Why aren’t there more?) When I heard about Julie Berry’s The Emperor’s Ostrich, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, as it looked like a funny, adventurous fantasy for the younger crowd. While I do think middle graders will enjoy this, I was hoping for a bit more.

So much space around him, and so much luxury, . . . and yet he’s all alone.

In the empire of Camellion, a 21-year-old emperor reigns supreme. He is spoiled and bratty, and even has an official person who brings him warm milk every night. One night, he is kidnapped from his bed, flung onto an ostrich, and disappears. In the same empire, a young dairymaid named Begonia sets out to find her missing cow, Alfalfa. Along the way, Begonia crosses paths with the emperor (although she does not know he is the emperor), and a light dose of magic helps both along their paths, one finding a cow, the other finding himself.

There are definitely a lot of positive things about The Emperor’s Ostrich. Begonia is a wonderfully strong and independent female character, something I am always a fan of, and of which there still aren’t enough. She questions why major responsibilities always seem to fall to her, but she doesn’t complain. Begonia gets the job done, and the story really stresses that it’s ok, and a desired character trait, to be hardworking and responsible, and that not all girls have to want hair bows and dolls. She is certainly a character to look up to. The book also has some truly funny moments in it, mostly through the character Key, a boy who becomes friends with Begonia. Berry also does a nice job of showing how money doesn’t equal happiness. The emperor has everything except friends, and that turns out to be his weakness.

The problems I had with the story were that the plot was a bit convoluted at times and I wanted a bit more, well, magic, in this magical tale. There were a few spots in the story that jumped around a bit, and I would have liked smoother transitions. And much of the magic was only hinted at. One of the major magical elements in the book, two spirits guiding the story, weren’t a big enough part of the story at the beginning, in my opinion. I would have liked a little more about them.

That being said, I do think younger middle graders who enjoy a more gentle story, with a hint of magic thrown in, will really enjoy this. Fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon will surely love this one too, and it’s a bit more accessible for younger readers.



Julie Berry has a blog, and in THIS post, she talks about how the idea for this novel came about. It happened as she was teaching a writing class for kids, so you might find it interesting. I did!


Review: The List

The List

“Language is what makes man ungovernable.”

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own.

As a lover of both YA and dystopian novels, I was very excited to read The List. I’m always interested to see how different authors portray their view of the world after a major disaster. I think we as a society have an obsession with end of the world scenarios, and I am particularly interested in the aftermath of those events, rather than what leads up to them. In The List, Patricia Forde explores a society trying to rebuild in the aftermath of a colossal natural disaster. This book is a great addition to the growing narrative of dystopian YA/middle grade novels.

Letta lives in Ark, a city that has been re-built after a natural disaster wiped out much of society many years ago. Some of the older citizens remember the way the world used to be, but many of them have been born and raised in Ark. To ensure the survival of humans, Ark citizens are only allowed to speak List, a language consisting of 500 approved words. Except for the Wordsmith, Benjamin, who is entrusted with the task of documenting and saving words beyond the list, and Letta, who is his apprentice. When Benjamin disappears and Letta becomes the Wordsmith, she starts to discover things about Ark and its leader that make her wonder if this society is actually the utopia it is meant to be. She must decide which is more dangerous: language or the lack of it.

I loved this book! The description immediately brought to mind The Giver, and I’ve since seen it compared to that book several times. The premise is the same: a homogenous culture with a select person who knows the truth. As in any dystopian novel, the government wields extreme power to control and establish a new world. The List uses words and language as that power. It very much reminded me of parenting. We teach our children certain words and try to keep them from others. It is a form of ultimate control. Along the way, outside influences introduce those words whether we like it or not. There are always rebels out there. I will say that the device used at the end of the novel to exert total control is a little convenient, but it didn’t detract from the overall story.

“The here and now is only the smallest part of who we are. Each of us is all that we have been, all our stories, all that we could be.”

Words are so basic that it is easy for us to take them for granted. We teach our kids to describe feelings, emotions, surroundings. We give names to the most subtle of emotions. What would it be like if we were forbidden from using those words? Would it dull the senses, or sharpen frustration? Forde shows us what might happen if language became a contaminant, rather than something to be celebrated. This novel is so relevant today, and I think it’s a great way to introduce some important ideas to kids, in an incredibly entertaining way!


Extra Note!

This is classified as a middle grade novel, but I think it fits pretty neatly into the YA category. It’s certainly meant for at least ages 10 and up, and while it’s not as complex as some other dystopian YA novels such as The Hunger Games, I do think kids all the way through high school would really enjoy this. The storyline of purposefully eliminating language is also a great way to introduce some thoughtful discussions with older kids.