Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

July 21st, 2017 · Books

Review By KRISTIN WALD

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King from Ben Hatke is a testament to adventurous storytelling and rich imagery. Opening with the same rush of action as the first book in the series, this second part of the adventure separates the friends and allows each character to find strength and courage on their own. The story picks up immediately after Maddie, Jack’s younger sister, disappears into a portal, and the pace never lets up. The dangers are more developed, the injuries more severe, and there is one mention of “The A Word” (Ass) in the text, but Mighty Jack and the Goblin King will thrill children ages 7-14 through multiple readings.

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This second installment of the Mighty Jack series has focused the action to highlight Lilly even more. Her character expands and evolves dramatically during the story. When her ability to assist in Maddie’s rescue is diminished due to injuries, Lilly insists that Jack leave her behind. Soon after, she refuses to tuck herself into the fairy tale role of the maiden, and later she rejects Jack’s attempts to save her out of loyalty to new friends. Basically, Lilly experiences the search for identity and values that usually takes an entire journey through adolescence and beyond. Astute fans will go back to examine the title after reading.

The graphic novel makes references to classics of all kinds. Some readers will notice that the damsel in distress trope is turned on its head, others will be reminded of bogey men who unravel into creepy pests, and just about everyone will enjoy the appearance of a Magic 8 Ball. Bonus: Fans of Hatke’s other works will be particularly ecstatic to reach the end of the story.

As in the first Mighty Jack installment, each character gets hero moments. The continued growth of each character is highlighted by these heroic moments. Jack, who has always been a wonderful big brother, further develops his protective selflessness with strength and a touch of headstrong arrogance, which he works to overcome throughout. Maddie, who is helplessly carried away and caged throughout much of the story, gets her heroic moments as well.

The evocative and occasionally eerie illustrations convey movement and emotion beautifully. Lilly’s determination comes through in her stance and face, and Jack’s concern and stubborn courage are clear. The world Hatke creates is filled with otherworldly and familiar imagery that is at once gorgeous and overwhelming. Jack and Lilly meet various inhabitants in their adventures, and the consistent thread is that kindnesses are returned; it’s a true Pay it Forward parable.

Human children are fodder in this story, hearkening back to the basic fears of fairy tales. Maddie was kidnapped in order to feed a machine that powers the Giants’ world. The Goblin King wonders if he should eat or marry Lilly (she decides on a third choice). And all the children get bounced around, cracked against rocks, and battered in fights throughout the story. Even so, the gore is at a minimum; bloody scenes and displayed bruises are the worst of it.

While the character of the Goblin King is at once comical and frightening, the Giants come off as brutal and the rats are plentiful and menacing. However, the variety of creative characters in the Mighty Jack world balance the horror with loyalty, kindness, and humor. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King will make a fantastic addition to your graphic novel collection.

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Wonder Woman (2017)

June 7th, 2017 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie reviewReview By KRISTIN WALD

With the gorgeous posters, dramatic previews, and all-around hype surrounding the blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” it is tempting to throw caution to the wind and bring children to see this woman-directed, woman-centered superhero film. But should you?

Common Sense Media recommends the film for children 12+ and it is rated PG-13. Adhering to those guidelines cuts out a lot of very excited girls (and boys) from seeing the film on the big screen. So what is a concerned, but equally eager parent to do?

Listen, you know your child, and you know how s/he has responded to different films in the past. Some parents may want to attend a screening prior to bringing their children, and, for most viewers, “Wonder Woman” will definitely hold up to two (or more) screenings. The positive messages of powerful women, questioning norms, empathy, and choosing love over disgust may also balance out some challenges of what is, at its core, a typical big budget superhero movie. Hopefully the caveats that follow will help you decide what is best for your family.

As with all superhero films, there is a good amount of fighting violence, but “Wonder Woman” is set during World War I, and that adds an element of wartime violence as well. There is little gory violence, in fact there is surprisingly little blood considering the use of arrows, swords, bombs, and bullets. However, there is a high body count in several scenes, and some of the deaths are particularly realistic. Towards the beginning, an Amazon swinging off a cliff to attack soldiers is shot, and her body swings lifeless on the rope. In war scenes, women and children are shown suffering in a muddy bunker and later killed by gas.

More graphic, there is one scene that shows a soldier with a mangled leg, although it is not close-up or particularly gory, especially when compared to what we are used to. There are many horses used in the film, and during fight scenes they are seen falling or getting hit by bullets and debris. My understanding is that most of this is computer graphic work, but sensitive animal lovers may be disturbed.

The sexual innuendo and use of alcohol is minimal. The main issue some parents may have for younger children is a briefly naked Steve Trevor, shown from the front holding his genitals as he walks down from a bath. There is also banter about reproduction versus “pleasures of the flesh” and a kiss that later implies an intimate night spent together. There are a few scenes where characters are drinking, and one in particular becomes very drunk. Consequences of the drinking are alluded to, but not elaborated upon.

For children sensitive to sound, this film may feel very loud in parts. With explosions, Ares-generated lightning strikes, and tanks being thrown, there are several sections with potential for children to react strongly to noise. The same goes for flashing lights and fast edits.

Overall, children 10 and older will find “Wonder Woman” enjoyable. Younger children who have enjoyed films like the Star Wars or Harry Potter franchises, or any of the Tolkien inspired films will probably take it in stride. Try watching the previews with children prior to deciding whether or not to see “Wonder Woman” in the theater or whether to wait until it can be watched on the small screen.

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Dolphin Tale: The Junior Tale

May 30th, 2017 · Books

Review By JENNIFER KALI

My 7-year-old daughter has recently decided she wants to be a marine biologist, which is how we ended up reading Dolphin Tale together.

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Dolphin Tale, the junior novel, is based on the screenplay for the 2011 hit movie with the same name. Based on a true story, it tells of Winter the dolphin who was rescued by the Clearwater Marine Hospital after being stuck in a crab trap. Winter’s tail was so badly damaged in the accident that it had to be removed. This caused Winter to develop a new manner of swimming which was damaging to her spine. The marine hospital worked with scientists to develop a prosthetic tale to aid Winter in swimming.

The novel tells Winter’s story through the eyes of a fictional 11-year-old boy Sawyer and his friend Hazel. It introduces a lot of ideas regarding animal rescue in a kid-friendly way, such as rehab and release, the finances behind animal rescue, and the various types of scientists involved in animal rescues. There is an additional human element to the story that is a great conversation starter. Winter’s story develops alongside that of Sawyer’s cousin, Kyle, who lost a leg in Afghanistan and is also coming to terms with his prosthetic leg.

My daughter loves this novel. She wants to see the movie on our next movie night. She can’t wait to visit Winter at the Clearwater Marine Hospital the next time we are in Florida.

I highly recommend this book for the future marine biologist in your life. Amazon (affiliate link) recommends this book for ages 7-10. That seems about right.

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Real Friends

April 17th, 2017 · Books

Review By KRISTIN WALD

The ups-and-downs of childhood friendships, the painful drama that ensues when treasured friendships change, and the various coping mechanisms children employ are on full display in Shannon Hale’s new graphic memoir Real Friends. Recommended for ages 8-12, the book will evoke discussion about friendship, kindness, being mean, and all the emotions wrapped up in those topics.

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Real Friends is a memoir, and it reads as a personal and moving version of elementary school experiences. Despite its focus on the lower grades, the characters do not come across as very young, and older children will find that the conflicts relatable and universal. Each chapter focuses on the main character, Shannon, and her relationship with a particular friend, but there are recurring characters in each section that tie the various threads together.

Conflicts in the memoir include losing a best friend, feeling left out and different, having hurt feelings and hurting feelings, being lied about, possessiveness, rivalries, friends moving away, regrets, and feelings misunderstood. Basically, it runs through most friendship challenges in its 224 pages. In addition, sibling conflicts are a part of the mix, making sure that at times Shannon truly feels like she has nowhere to turn.

Real Friends is not only about elementary school difficulties. Balancing out the problems in friendship are joyful moments of connection and belonging. Scenes of a summer vacation, finding a BFF, being accepted by “cool kids” who accept you for who you are, and finding forgiveness all work to make this memoir very real, not just morbid.

The bright and delightfully expressive illustrations by LeUyen Pham are at once quirky and awkward and lovable, much like the main character. Pham is able to show the characters growing up, while remaining recognizable, throughout the six years of the story. There are also several fantastically illustrated sequences that depict an imaginary and child-like world.

A few scenes felt particularly confessional. Both at school and at home, Shannon hides in the bushes (sometimes finding a fellow victim of mean girls) to cry and be alone. There are also hints at issues with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder sprinkled throughout the book. The scenes in which Shannon’s sister Wendy physically and emotionally attack her are particularly painful. And a standout scene comes at the end of the book, when Shannon makes a conscious decision not to be “nice” to someone who has repeatedly tormented her.

This book, despite focusing on the friendship of girls, will appeal to all genders because of its clear and honest approach to the emotionally fraught friendship conflicts all children (and adults!) face at one time or another. Don’t miss the author’s opening “interview” with her own children about the book’s subject matter and the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Both are Must Reads.

Real Friends is out May 2nd, 2017. I received an Advance Reader’s Edition for review.

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