Category: Kid Lit

What We’re Reading – Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is a middle grade graphic novel (my kid enjoyed it at 5-6 years old, but I think the titular Jack is at least 12 yo in the book and I fully enjoyed the story as an adult).   

Actually, we’re reading the collected works of Ben Hatke, because he easter-eggs characters from all of his books in his other books, and once we read one (I think we started with Julia’s House for Lost Creatures), the kiddo wants to read them all and figure out why the dragon in Julia looks familiar (it’s a hero in Mighty Jack, and makes a cameo as a baby in Nobody Likes a Goblin). Ben Hatke is one of my inspirations, too, as an artist and a storyteller. His picture books are really lovely pen, ink, and watercolor (what I love to make) and his graphic novels are bold, energetic, and fun. 


 Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl is a mashup sequel to both the… you guessed it, Mighty Jack AND Zita the Spacegirl books. The Jack stories are a little bit older target audience than Zita (I’d say solidly middle-grade, with a maybe 13 year old protagonist, vs Zita who we meet at a younger age and worked for my kid at 5 years old).   It’s a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk… loosely… in that there’s a really awesome garden that opens up a portal to other worlds and there are kids climbing on beanstalks and eventually the adventure saves the family home.  Do you like magical gardens? YEAH!  Start with MIGHTY JACK and go from there.  Prefer space adventures and maybe have a younger kid? Start with ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, a space-portal adventure about saving your friends and making new ones on the way, with lots of cute and/or creepy many-worlds characters.   Either way, get all three of the books in the series you’re starting, because you will surely want to keep reading.  


  Mighty Jack (3 book series) My Favorite Thing About Zita the SpaceGirl - GeekDad

Image from Jill Barklem's Spring Story

Influences – Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge

New type of post: influences! 

I’m taking a really fantastic class from OC Art Studios with fab fantastic teacher Larissa Marantz, and one of our homework assignments is to dissect style from some of our influences.  I’ve done this before, briefly, anyway, with Lisa Congdon’s book about finding personal style (the one with a tiger on the front? it’s really good but I’m blocking the title and don’t want to ADHD over to another tab to find it in case I lose my train of thought… hi welcome to my brain, bet I could have found it in this time). 



One of the influences I didn’t get to in my homework assignment is Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge. 

If you have not been lucky enough to encounter Brambly Hedge, well, I am sad for you but I want you to see it now.  Not for the stories, really. An agent once told me that one of my stories read (she said this very gently)… “a little… ’80s”. What she meant by that was that the style was kind of gentle and quiet and didn’t feel like it had high stakes. Brambly Hedge is like that.  So are a lot of picture books I read as a child of the 80s and babysitter of the 90s (same books, natch, since I just purloined our existing library).  The stories kinda don’t really go anywhere, and other than the Secret Staircase, didn’t really do much for me as fiction.  BUT THE PICTURES. 



GODDESS the pictures. 
These little British-style mice in their epic, cottage-core, country-victorian tree houses, eating GBBO-worthy trifles and cakes.  The almost-steampunk-but-they-work inner workings of the mill tree and the dairy stump.  The super fine sepia pen work over watercolor that’s so crisp it almost scares me to think about how it was painted.  THE PLANTS!!! 

I used to get lost in these pictures for days.  
As a tween, I got really into drawing cross-sections (cutaway views) of houses… boring suburban ones, not cool hobbity ones like in Brambly Hedge, but undoubtedly influenced by then. 

Then I ended up going to ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL. Because I liked drawing the insides of houses so much. Brambly Hedge: The Secret Staircase by Jill Barklem – Tyger Tale

img: from Jill Barklem’s THE SECRET STAIRCASE

I mean. Missed the mark there, kiddo.  I don’t think anyone mentioned to me that “illustration” is a major and possibly one I could have double majored in with creative writing. Did I know somewhere deep in my psyche that Jill Barklem went to illustration college? Maybe, but I think I relegated it to “historical” and “foreign”, and didn’t connect such things to career counselling in 2001.  REGRETS!!! 

Anyway so be it. I’m not sure I’ll ever have the patience to do a whole picture book in as much detail as Jill Barklem did, but I do like drawing endless little details on shelves and painting them later. I like busy artwork that you could get lost in, techincal details that seem like they work, steampunk (or solar-punk, or cottage-core) fantasies.  I really enjoy pen-and-watercolor style, and I like working in it too.   

Brambly Hedge - Jill Barklem - Art gallery quality printing sold by Rita  Memory on Storenvy

from Jill Barklem’s AUTUMN STORY

What We’re Reading – Owly by Andy Runton

Owly by Andy Runton

Early reader graphic novel, ages 4+

Oh my goodness pals, this is such a SWEET series. Not cloying, but just genuine and kind and lovely.  Owly, who speaks only in icons, is a flightless owl who feeds birds, even though they’re terrified of him. He wants a friend… and his kindness in helping others despite their fear gets him MANY over the course of the series to date (including his bestie Wormy, humminbirds, a possum, a butterfly, and some bluebird buds).  My 7 year old, who is totally into fighting goblins and being intense, is in love with the the gentle kindness and the relatable adventures.  He also likes that there aren’t a lot of words and they’re nearly always paired with iconography, so he can understand the story without an adult or too much struggle.  And they’re fun to read aloud, with just enough emotional tension to keep everyone really rooting for Owly and his buds. 

What I’m Reading – The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones

The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones

MG novel, probably ages 9+

If you have never read anything by Diana Wynne Jones, please start.  Maybe not with this one if you don’t like ghost stories – she’s got a huge collection of middle grade/early YA novels that are more adventuresome than spooky (Dark Lord of Derkholm, Dalemark Quartet…)  and a favorite YA+ of mine, Deep Secret.  Anyway sometime last year I decided I needed to read everything she’s ever written and I just found The Time of the Ghost on my shelf. I’m only halfway through but it’s pretty delightful.  A girl finds herself invisible and mostly intangible, drifting down a lane, and discovers she’s a ghost, but she doesn’t know why!  Her investigation involves observing her three sisters and trying to manipulate objects to communicate.  There’s some witchy magic at work, along with a British boarding school vibe. I’d definitely rather be reading it in the yard than working through my emails, and I’m confident (because I know DWJ’s books) that the early promise will pan out!


What We’re Reading – Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick


Hilo: The Boy who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

Graphic Novel series for middle grade readers (I’m guessing ages 6-12 interest level, 9+ reading level)


Robots! Robots that look like kids! A robot that crashes to earth and learns to burp! And then fights intergalactic robot powers with two human kids and a robot sister and a magical cat warrior! Seriously, there is nothing not to like about this series, unless you’re not into fantasy-adventure punctuated with burp jokes. If you’re not into those things, probably this is not the mini-book-review site for you, because my kid and I love mild rudeness, unexpected magic, and drama.  My reluctant-reading rising 2nd grade kiddo does all the sound effects, and is learning to recognize Hilo’s catchphrase (“Outstanding!”), so we call it a team reading effort.  Highly recommend, and don’t think you’ll get away with just having book 1. We absolutely tore through the 6 book series!

Cover of Hilo the boy who crashed to earth by Judd Winick


What We’re Reading – Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song

Graphic novel for young readers (4-8) – Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song

A romp for the family, from littlest on up.  Clever squirrels Norma and Belly want pancakes… but in their excitement they got burned!  But there’s still a good smell in the air… I laughed on most pages as Norma and Belly scheme to get donuts from the new food truck in the park.  There are physical gags, machines going wrong, delicious snacks, and more. It follows a heist format with a getaway car, a wise advisor, and lots of challenges.  The squirrels jump on each new problem  with good humor and short-lasting dismay, and we’re left smiling.