September 24, 2018


Written by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
256 pp.
Ages 8-12
September 2018

When  a splotch of ink pulls itself out of the sketchbook of graphic artist Mr. Rylance, only the cat Rickman sees it roaming and exploring until it hides itself within the drawing efforts of sixth grader Ethan. In fact, while the talented Mr. Rylance, known for his Kren graphic novels, struggles with writer's and artist's block undoubtedly stemming from the death of his spouse, his son is just struggling to contribute the artwork to a class project. (His peers are convinced he should be able to draw like his dad.) But after Ethan discovers the ink splotch which he calls Inkling is able to absorb the ink from books, newsprint and even photographs and complete incredible illustrations, he begins to use the inky entity to build on his own clumsy stick figure drawings and submit the artwork as his own.
From Inkling by Kenneth Oppel, illus. by Sydney Smith
While Inkling feeds on a variety of print which affects its voice and behaviour–violent comic books are the worst!–and draws Ethan's homework, the boy struggles to keep his secret advantage safe and undercover. But, like all good secrets, it is revealed, first to one friend and then to his father, before being discovered by Ethan's archenemy, the daughter of Dad's publisher.  Too soon, Ethan is scrambling to keep Inkling safe and stop those who wish to enslave it. 
From Inkling by Kenneth Oppel, illus. by Sydney Smith
What starts out as an imaginative creation story of a splotch of ink soon becomes a cautionary tale against finding an easy way out of work and taking advantage of those who might help you. And you'll be astonished when you feel like cheering for a blob of ink who expresses itself wildly in terms of whatever text it has most recently consumed, including L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, Roald Dahl's The BFG and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and then feel angst for it when Inkling writes, in inky bold writing, that "I AM ALONESOME" (pg. 82). Kenneth Oppel has made us care for bats, a fostered chimp and now a blob of ink. Too soon the reader will see Inkling as a living thing, even before given a name, and I defy any science teacher to do a lesson on the characteristics of living things and not struggle with Inkling's classification. It's all in Kenneth Oppel's ability to give life through his words, invigorating Inkling with needs and wants and free will.

Though Inkling is not a picture book or a graphic novel, it is illustrated, here by Governor General award-winning artist Sydney Smith who takes Kenneth Oppel's story and sugars it with artwork that adds but doesn't explain. From chapter heading panels to ink splats small and large on every double-spread and the occasional expression of Inkling's work, Sydney Smith guides us to understanding the evolution of Inkling from static ink on a page to living being, absorbing, learning and feeling. Remember: Inkling is composed solely of ink.

I suspect teachers will be jumping on Inkling (please don't hurt him!) to use in class for everything from writing voice and setting to writing "What If?" stories as the basis for plot. But don't disregard Inkling's magic as a blob of ink restores life to a family disintegrating in grief and offers hope through the art of its dynamic efforts.

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