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What We’re Reading: The Mostly True Story of Jack

2011 September 1
by Wren

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

Hazel and I sometimes fight over books. We’ll greedily hide the book in our rooms, reading feverishly until the other notices that we’ve taken it. A little juvenile for grown adults? Possibly. But such was the case with new novel The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (written for young readers, ages 8–12). It’s a fantastic book, the kind that got me into reading when I was younger. Well written, it engrosses the reader into the magical world of the main character Jack and teaches a lesson without being too heavy-handed or overly tidy in the resolution. Also, I confess, I may have even teared up.

The book centers around Jack, a boy who has to move to the-middle-of-nowhere Iowa when his parents separate. Up until this point, he’s been pretty much invisible, both to his family, his classmates, and everyone else. When he moves in with his kooky aunt and uncle in Iowa, however, people take notice. Curious things start happening to him, and mysterious, magical shenanigans ensue. Supernatural cats, a mayor who wants Jack to come to an untimely demise, a house and natural world that shudder and respond to Jack in a very unique way, and underground mysteries all await Jack’s discovery. In the midst of all this, Jack learns about finding his place in the world to belong, the importance of quality friends and family, and how complicated good and evil can be. Barnhill leads us down a road of suspense and surprises with her poetic descriptive tendencies.

Author Kelly Barnhill is a writer from Minnesota. The mom of three kids, she knows how to engage young readers. In her acknowledgements, she also thanks Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center and Intermedia Arts, which won her brownie points with us. This book has been getting some wonderful reviews, and they’re well-deserved. An experienced writer, she’s published a slew of short stories, essays, and children’s non-fiction books. Check out her website if you haven’t already—she’s funny, blogs like a pro, and has a great online presence.

Or, wait a few weeks: we will be interviewing the talented Barnhill, and will share that with all of you! Stay tuned!

4 Responses
  1. September 1, 2011

    As a child, I absolutely loved mysteries! (Well, I still do.) The Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew were my books of choice. And Babysitter’s Club. I can’t forget about them! (Especially the Mysteries and the Super Mysteries… those were always my faves!)

    So of course, I had to share Boxcar Children with my niece and she also loves them. I always make sure that she has new books in the series to read when she’s ready for a Boxcar Children fix. (I’m also trying to convince her to let me borrow some of them!) She’s a mystery girl herself, with the new Nancy Drew books for younger readers (she’s 7) and the Magic Treehouse Books as current books that she reads.

    There was also a book that I read over and over again when I was younger, called Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander. It’s an excellent book, as I remember!

  2. Wren permalink
    September 2, 2011

    Funny, your favorites were also mine (esp The Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew)! I think it’s a great opportunity to get kids involved in reading with books like this. I have a cousin who is also seven, and I’m excited to start her reading some of my old favorites, or new discoveries like this book!

    Thanks for all the suggestions!

  3. timothy permalink
    September 3, 2011

    The books I stayed up reading were Brian Jaques’ Redwall series. I remember one of my classmates in grade school pulling me aside and whispering to me about this great book he’d read from the classroom bookshelf. He had squirreled it away behind the rest of the books so he could bestow it upon his friends. It was Mariel of Redwall and I spent that entire evening building my own Redwall Abbey out of blankets and pillows and spent the next week reading every Redwall book I could find. In fact, the first author reading I ever went to was at the Red Balloon Bookstore on Grand Ave. in St. Paul to hear Jaques read from Marlfox (if I’m remembering correctly).

    A lot has already been said about the Harry Potter books, but I have to say that they were the first books I ever discussed critically with my friends. Learning how to formulate ideas and defend arguments about books can be just as important as reading them. The Harry Potter series got me engaged with those around me, in addition to engaging with the book.

  4. Wren permalink
    September 5, 2011

    All of us kids in the Wray family growing up reading the Redwall series, with my older brother being the most obsessed. We, too, built the Redwall Abbey (out of cardboard) and made little animals to go along with it. Fantastic books for young readers!

    I agree with your thoughts on the Harry Potter books – they’ve gotten my younger cousins into reading, when before they would never have dreamed of reading other than for school. I’m not picky about what gets a reader interested, as long as it DOES get them interested. Some other similarly good books for young readers that are easily accessible are the three books in the Eragon trilogy. My younger cousins love these books, too.

    I agree that discussion around books is as important as reading them. Reading doesn’t have to be a lone act in your room (although sometimes that’s all I want) – but it can also be a fun, lively, intelligent discussion with friends and peers.

    Thanks for sharing, Timothy!

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