I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly, illustrated by JM Ken Niimura
Barbara Thorson is most definitely not your average fifth-grader. She refuses to buy the “motivational speaking” going on in the front of the classroom on career day, quipping to the less-than-esteemed guest, “I already have a ‘career,’ thank you.” Indeed, Barbara’s calling is so much greater: “I find giants. I hunt giants. I kill giants,” she stands up and announces. “So you’ll forgive me if ‘motivating’ a room full of losers with no self-esteem out of their hard-earned money doesn’t hold much interest.” Ouch.
With her oversized glasses and looming bunny ears, rocking that untucked skull shirt and heart-shaped supply bag, Barbara is quite the sight to behold. The principal tries to tell her “enough with the ‘giant-killing nonsense,'” the new school psychologist works hard to get to know her, her older sister works even harder to feed, protect, and understand her. If that’s not enough intrusion, the new girl wants to join in on Barbara’s ‘game,’ while the hulking bully is determined that Barbara will never play at anything ever again.
In the midst of the push-and-pull chaos all around her, Barbara must keep the giants from destroying her universe as she knows it. Armed with a single weapon – “Coveleski, the Giant Slayer” – Barbara will need to ward off all the naysayers in order to safeguard the world … and maybe, somehow, oh please, save the one person dearest to her breaking young heart.
Readers’ hearts, too, are under severe threat here. Grab the tissues before you open to the first page. Trust me: you’ll want to be prepared. In a case of the less-you-know, the-better-your-read, I’ll just offer one more tidbit: Make sure to finish the “Behind the Scenes” additions at story’s (spectacular) end. Getting acquainted with creator Joe Kelly who miraculously “scribbled Barbara’s entire journey on a legal pad in less than an hour,” and artist Ken Niimura who names Giants as his “first long professional work,” is worth the extra few minutes, not to mention the multiple chuckles that will lighten the drenched kleenex pile you’ll find you’ve accumulated.
Who knew literary heartbreak could be this uplifting?
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2009, 2014 (fifth anniversary edition)