Inkling by Kenneth Oppel - a book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "From the acclaimed author of The Nest, The Boundless, and Airborn comes a brilliantly funny, breakout book about a boy who discovers an ink blot that’s come to life! Perfect for those who love Hoot and Frindle and sure to be a hit with kids everywhere!
       The Rylance family is stuck. Dad’s got writer’s block. Ethan promised to illustrate a group project at school–even though he can’t draw. Sarah’s still pining for a puppy. And they all miss Mom. So much more than they can say.
       Enter Inkling. Inkling begins life in Mr. Rylance’s sketchbook. But one night the ink of his drawings runs together–and then leaps off the page! This small burst of creativity is about to change everything.
       Ethan finds him first. Inkling has absorbed a couple chapters of his math book–not good–and the story he’s supposed to be illustrating for school–also not good. But Inkling’s also started drawing the pictures to go with the story–which is amazing! It’s just the help Ethan was looking for! Inkling helps the rest of the family too–for Sarah he’s a puppy. And for Dad he’s a spark of ideas for a new graphic novel. It’s exactly what they all want.
       It’s not until Inkling goes missing that this family has to face the larger questions of what they–and Inkling–truly need.
       Kenneth Oppel has given us a small masterpiece of middle-grade fiction. Inkling is funny and fizzy and exciting, and brimming with the kind of interesting ideas and dilemmas that kids will love to wrestle with. And Sydney Smith is creating wonderfully inky illustrations to bring the story to vivid life. Get ready. A little ink blot is about to become your new favorite character!"

My Two Cents: Inkling is a master class in personification. Taking an ink blot and not only giving it character, but DEVELOPING that character into a full-blown bildungsroman is brilliant.  Inkling devours ink as sustenance and his pal (and the protagonist) Ethan feeds him some great literature choices. Watching Inkling grow and develop on ink from the BFG, Moby Dick, Anne of Greene Gables (and others) speaks volumes about the ways in which literature has the power to shape who we are. I can not decide if I liked Inkling's BFG or Captain Ahab influenced speech better! AND... there is that double entendre name! This book is metafiction perfection for literary-inclined readers.
There is also a very lot right in the telling (besides Literary Nerd porn). The characters are so complete. Protagonist Ethan bears the burden of his family's loss as his father has pretty much just checked out after his wife's death. Ethan's sister, Sarah, is nine and a typical little sister pain in his butt, but she just also happens to have Down's Syndrome. Oppel writes this as a fact of Ethan's life and not a plot device or burden or event that matters to the story development. Sarah is just another kid in the story. The other characters are Ethan's classmates and his father's publisher boss. Some turn out to have some pretty nasty traits, but reasons for their nastiness are developed so as to not make a typical one-dimensional villain, and characters have redeeming qualities without you really needing to like them. Again, complete.

The plot begins in action from the first sentence, "No one was awake to see it happen, except Rickman." There are rising dangers and a climactic ending that will keep middle grade readers turning the pages after lights out, under covers, flashlight in hand. This is truly a strong addition to not only Mr. Oppel's already impressive oeuvre, but to the children's literature genre.

Inkling would be a great classroom read aloud or in excerpt for teaching various literary devices. I see that Mr. Oppel has several teaching guides available for his other titles so it is probably only a matter of time until there is one available for Inkling. You can check it out over on the teaching resource section of his webpage: HERE.
Genre: Fantasy
Age: Middle Grade
Pages: 272
ISBN-13: 978-1524772819
ThemesInkling's themes shine! Bullying, Grit vs. Perfection, family, grief, depression, sacrifice, coming-of-age,
Character Development: Complete and Endearing. Who would have thought one could fall in love with a little blot of ink? THAT takes some writing chops!
Plot Engagement: Starts in action, builds slowly at first, very climactic ending as we have grown to adore the characters and root for their success
Originality: Seriously? Who else has ever brought a blot of ink into an inkling of an idea, let alone a full blown and well-drawn character  (easy puns! :-) 
Believability: Here's the point! An ink blot? Yep. He is named Inkling and you are going to love him.
Diversity: Although the characters physical specifics aren't discussed nor necessarily important to the story, they mostly present with white traits. HOWEVER, the attention - make that non-attention - to Sarah's Downs Syndrome make this a win in the diversity category

Thank You to NetGalley and Random House Children's Publishing for my digital copy.

You can buy a copy of Inkling HERE. It's available October, 2018

Because I had a digital copy, I did not get to see all of the amazing artwork that accompanies the book in its full glory. The work of award-winning children's book illustrator Sydney Smith is fantastic and adds much to the telling. You read more about him and see his other books HERE.

To read more about author Kenneth Oppel you can pop over to his website: HERE.

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