An aspiring magician discovers the real magic in “Super Jake,” his special-needs little brother.
*Super Jake and the King of Chaos by Naomi Milliner. Running Press Kids, 2019, 278 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 8-14
Ethan Miller, age 11, was inspired to go into magic by Magnus the Magnificent, one of his favorite illusionists. And he’s pretty good at it—good enough to perform at kids’ birthday parties and make a little pocket money. He has a lot going for him otherwise: a close-knit Jewish family, grandparents nearby, a mildly annoying little brother named Freddy, good friends at school—and Jake. Jake is his youngest brother, age 2, who can’t walk, talk, sit up, or swallow. But Jake can smile, and that’s how he shows his love for the family that loves him. Still, Ethan hates that moment when he has to explain his brother to strangers and new friends. Also, Jake has health issues that threaten to throw the whole family in a tailspin at any given moment. This year at school, there’s a new kid who seems to have it in for Ethan, and his chances of entering an awesome contest that could win him stage time with Magnus seem very slim. And then things get even worse.
Ethan is a likeable protagonist with a winning voice and a sense of humor that will draw in readers and keep them engaged. The strain of a special-needs child on family life is clear, but so are the rewards. Though Jake’s condition is not specified, the author writes of what she knows: the back flap includes a picture of her three sons with the real-life Jake. God is not a powerful presence in the story, but Ethan has realistic questions about prayer in a time of crisis. With a lovely balance of humor, emotion, and realism, the story explores a difficult issue in a life-affirming, family-positive way that will both entertain and enlighten.
Overall Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4.75
- Artistic/literary value: 4.75