Jack Gets Zapped: The Latest from Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzoli

Courtesy of Viking Books

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.

Courtesy of Viking Books

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.

Courtesy Viking Books

My Secret Guide to Paris, by Lisa Schroeder; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 216 pages, ages 10-13.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli; Viking Juvenile $17.99, 48 pages, ages 5-9.

With the snow slowly melting here on the East Coast our thoughts suddenly turn to Paris in the springtime, and these two titles are just the thing to tap into that certain je ne sais quoi that captivates visitors to the City of Light. Lisa Schroeder’s My Secret Guide to Paris is an effervescent story about a young girl who adores everything about Paris. Even though Nora has never actually visited the city, she falls in love with it by listening to her grandmother’s tales of the Eiffel Tower and chocolat chaud. Just before they are set to visit Paris together, grand-mere passes away, leaving behind a sort of scavenger hunt for Nora, who, in the process of uncovering her grandmother’s mysteries, also learns how to heal her grief. Lifelong Francophiles will adore sharing this sweet romp with young readers, and the sprinkling of mots français throughout lends just the right air of authenticity.  

Meanwhile, Greg Pizzoli’s uproariously true story about master con-man Robert Miller will fascinate  readers from start to finish. At a surprisingly hefty forty-eight pages, Tricky Vic stands out from the standard picture-book fare, (most offerings meet the industry standard 32 pages) but that shouldn’t deter interested parties; every page is full of bold, retro-graphic style illustrations accompanied by a story as wild as it is factual. In 1925, the Eiffel Tower was, at the grand old age of thirty-six, already in a state of disrepair and exceedingly unpopular among Parisians. Enter Robert Miller, aka “Count Victor Lustig”, aka “Tricky Vic,” a lifelong con man who made his living defrauding aristocrats through cardgamess and selling fake counterfeit money-making machines. He even managed to con Al Capone as way to gain the mobster’s trust. Miller’s biggest score was tricking a French scrap metal dealer into buying the Iron Lady. Would you believe he even tried to sell the Eiffel Tower twice?  What child wouldn’t want to read about someone this delightfully despicable, someone who so fully embodies the meaning of the word chutzpah?