At this point in the pandemic, many of us living the WFH life may feel as though we’ve been sucked right into our computer screens. But we’re adults, supposedly capable of adjusting–just imagine how the millions of elementary schoolchildren are handling remote learning. Maybe you don’t have to imagine because you’ve got kids you’re helping navigate this strange, pixelated world. Now, there’s a book to help. Enter: Jack Gets Zapped! by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Greg Pizzoli (Viking: $9.99, 40 pages, ages 4-8) which shows kids they’re not alone in this strange new world, that reading can be fun, and that video games are not necessarily evil.
In this latest Jack caper, the titular protagonist is having, as in all these books, a bit of an existential crisis: he is “a good guy” but “can also be bad.” And here, on a rainy day tailor-made for curling up with a good book, Jack is playing video games instead. Which is fine, until he gets sucked into the television set, only to be saved from oblivion by an unlikely heroine. This, like all the books in the series, follows a predictable methodology ideal for coaxing reluctant readers out of their shells: limited and repetitive vocabulary coupled with simple sentence structures, bold art, and a lightly comedic touch make for a welcoming and accessible format. From font size and style, sentence structure, even the physical layout of the Jack series recall those in Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie lineup, and for good reason: both excel at reeling in readers most like to recoil from the activity. It’s a format that works, so why mess with a good thing.