Mighty Jack

  • Mighty Jack
  • written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
  • published by First Second Books (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Ben Hatke is a favorite in my house. His Zita the Spacegirl trilogy is pure magic, and his other books (Little Robot, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and Nobody Likes a Goblin) are just downright enchanting.

We look forward to each new book as a major event. So it was with much excitement that we dug into his current major undertaking: Mighty Jack for First Second Books. The first book in the series came out a few months ago, and Book 2 – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – is set to release this fall.

To give you an idea of how awesome Ben is, check out his Questions from a Kid interview from a couple years ago. (Warning: You might be distracted by the cuteness of the interviewer. Press on!)

If you’ve read Ben’s previous books, then you know that strong, young female protagonists are kind of his calling card. So much so that my daughter, at 5, noticed it. When she asked him why he wrote about girls (see above interview), he responded, “I relate to girls very well. When I was growing up, I didn’t have any brothers; I had sisters. And now, I’m a dad, and I don’t have any sons. I have daughters, and they’re having adventures all the time. So part of my inspiration is watching them, watching my four girls run around and have adventures. So I write for them. I tend to write about girls because I want my daughters to have plenty of girl heroes to read about.”

Why mention this? Because Mighty Jack is his first book that features a male protagonist (unless goblins count). Make no mistake, the book still features a strong, kickass female character, but Jack is a bit of a departure for Ben. However, if you’ve ever met Ben or follow him online, it’s pretty clear that he’s drawing inspiration for the character from the mirror.

The story is a twist on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale and focuses on Jack, his sister Maddy (who doesn’t talk), their single mother trying to make ends meet, and Lilly – the fascinating “girl next door.” True to the original story, Jack makes an incredibly unwise bargain for some seeds. In fact, he trades away his mom’s car for a few packets of seeds with mysterious writing on them.

At Maddy’s urging, they plant the seeds in the backyard, and I think you can see where this is going. Pretty soon, they have a magical garden overrun with dangerous plants and creatures that look like The Legend of Zelda crossed with Little Shop of Horrors. And then things go from bad to worse as they finds themselves battling a giant snail and a dragon.

Luckily, Jack is neighbors with Lilly, who happens to be obsessed with (and rather adept at handling) swords and weapons. The two quickly become close, bonding over their mutual love of adventure and the opportunities and wonder provided by their miraculous garden.

The book ends with a portal to another dimension and a cliffhanger that leads directly into Book 2.

If you’re a fan of Ben’s style, there’s a lot to love here. As much as I love his short picture books, it’s great to see him working with a full-length graphic novel format again. The higher page count really frees him up to flesh out the characters and add depth through details.

Jack and Lilly are an incredible duo, and kids will undoubtedly connect to them almost immediately. The story is a unique twist on a familiar tale, with all the right updates to help kids in 2017 relate. Plus, it’s just a really fun fantasy adventure story.

Mighty Jack is highly recommended, of course, and we’re on the edge of our seats for Book 2.

(Disclosure: First Second Books provided me with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain my own.)

Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. He's the founder and owner of The Roarbots and also a contributor to Syfy Wire, StarWars.com, and GeekDad. On top of that, he hosts The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, which celebrates creativity in popular culture, science, and technology by talking to a wide variety of people who contribute to it.