Jack might be the only kid in the world who's dreading summer. But he's got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It's a lot of responsibility, and it's boring, too, because Maddy doesn't talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom's car for a box of mysterious seeds. It's the best mistake Jack has ever made.
In Mighty Jack, what starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.
In Hatke's reworking of "Jack and the Beanstalk," Jack must care for his younger sister, Maddy, while his single mother holds down two jobs over the summer. Maddy doesn't speak, but she's entranced by the magic seeds she and Jack pick up from a shady dealer at a flea market, in exchange for their mother's car keys. Once they plant them, their home-schooled, sword-wielding neighbor Lilly is curious about their new garden, too a little too curious. Hatke (Little Robot) revels in drawing the fantasy plants: green hands that reach out and grab, tiny onion-headed creatures, melons with teeth. Jack and Lilly argue about how to handle them: "These plants are dangerous!" he protests. "Open your eyes, Jack," Lilly retorts. "Just because something's dangerous doesn't make it evil." There's action and menace aplenty, including a dragon whose ferocity only Maddy can quell, and flashes of intimacy, too, as when Jack's mother's anger melts into compassion as she sees her son in tears, or when Maddy suddenly speaks. Jack's desperate efforts to juggle the needs of three complex female characters drive this sensitive retelling. The cliffhanger ending promises a sequel. Ages 10 14.