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"Astonishing"—The New York Times Book Review

A brilliantly funny, highly illustrated story about how a little ink splot changes a family forever. Perfect for those who love Hoot, Holes, or Frindle!

The Rylance family is stuck. Dad's got writer's block. Ethan promised to illustrate a group project at school—even though he can't draw. Sarah's still pining for a puppy. And they all miss Mom.

Enter Inkling. Inkling begins life in Mr. Rylance's sketchbook. But one night the ink of his drawings runs together—and then leaps off the page! This small burst of creativity is about to change everything.

Ethan finds him first. Inkling has absorbed a couple chapters of his math book—not good—and the story he's supposed to be illustrating for school—also not good. But Inkling's also started drawing the pictures to go with the story—which is amazing! It's just the help Ethan was looking for! Inkling helps the rest of the family too—for Sarah he's a puppy. And for Dad he's a spark of ideas for a new graphic novel. It's exactly what they all want.

It's not until Inkling goes missing that this family has to face the larger questions of what they—and Inkling—truly need.

• A New York Times Notable Book
• A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year — top ten selection
• "A true-to-life family, some can't-put-it-down excitement, a few deep questions, and more than a little bit of magic. This book is everything, and I loved every page." —Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medalist for When You Reach Me

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524772819
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 104,123
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

KENNETH OPPEL is one of the most highly regarded authors of middle-grade fiction writing today. Among his books is the 2015 middle-grade novel The Nest, which received six starred reviews, was the Canadian Library Association's 2016 Book of the Year, a New York Times Editors' Choice, and was included on several notable "Best of 2015" lists, as well as Airborn, a 2005 Printz Honor Book. Find him online at and @KennethOppel.

SYDNEY SMITH is the illustrator of many award-winning picture books, including Smoot, A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, and Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, for which he was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal. Sydney lives with his family in Toronto, Canada. You can find him on Twitter @Sydneydraws.

Read an Excerpt

No one was awake to see it happen, except Rickman.
He was taking one of his midnight prowls, padding past the bedrooms of sleeping people, hoping to find something interesting to eat. He was nearly always hungry. Against the wall he found a dead fly, a chocolate chip, and a small piece of red crayon, which he also ate. He was not a picky cat. At the end of the hallway, he slipped into Mr. Rylance’s studio. In front of the drafting table was a chair he liked, and Rickman heaved himself up. It took two tries because he was heftier than he should have been.
On the drafting table, Mr. Rylance’s big sketchbook lay open. Animals and buildings and people jostled on the pages. Some pictures had scribbles through them, some were very sketchy, and others looked like they were ready to make an appearance in one of Mr. Rylance’s finished graphic novels. But these were all just ideas. They had no stories to go with them yet.
When it happened, it made no noise, but Rickman saw the whole thing.
The black ink looked suddenly wet, like the pictures had been drawn that very second. The lines glistened, then trembled. From every corner of the sketchbook, the ink beaded and started slithering across the pages toward the crease in the middle. As the ink moved, it left no smear behind it, just blank page. The lines of ink joined other lines, melding into weird shapes, sometimes smooth, sometimes pointy, getting larger. When they all met in the center of the book, they formed a big black splotch, about the size of a fist. For a moment it was motionless, as if resting.
Normally, Rickman took no interest in the arts, but this was different. He put his paws on the edge of the drafting table and leaned forward for a better view.
The ink rippled, like dark water with something swimming beneath the surface. Then it was on the move again, flowing down the crease until it reached the bottom of the page. It thickened along the edge, as though it was trying to pour itself over—but it couldn’t. It seemed to be stuck.
Rickman’s ears flattened against his skull. A thin tendril of ink lifted from the page, maybe half an inch or so, like a tiny arm desperate to escape quicksand. Then it got slurped back in.
Next a thicker spike of ink rose up, straining, reaching over the edge of the sketchbook, one second, two, before it collapsed back. Almost a minute passed and nothing happened.
Rickman yawned, showing his still-sharp teeth. This was getting boring.
All at once the ink rippled, as if a stiff wind blew across it, and then the entire splotch contracted and rose into a little mountain peak. It trembled, tensed, and then sprang. All the ink lifted right off the sketchbook—leaving the pages totally blank—and landed with a small splash on the drafting table.
Rickman purred low and deep in his throat. This was getting interesting again. This might be something worth eating.
Already little strands of the ink splotch were being pulled back toward the sketchbook, as if it were a magnet or a black hole. The splotch struggled, fighting its way inch by inch across the drafting table. The book had a powerful pull, dragging some stringy tendrils of ink toward it. But just when they were about to touch paper, they recoiled as if burned, rejoining the main inky splotch.
When it finally reached the far edge of the drafting table—leaving no trace of ink in its wake—it came to a rest, quivering slightly like something exhausted, but also amazed, and maybe even excited, because it started doing some kind of dance. It swirled round and round, spinning itself into all kinds of strange and beautiful shapes. Like it was celebrating its freedom.
Rickman’s paw came slamming down on it, claws extended. The splotch went spiky in surprise, then streaked between the cat’s claws and right over the edge of the table. It scurried along the underside, tested a table leg with a black, inky tongue, and then slid itself down to the floor.
While Rickman sniffed at the drafting table, the ink started flowing across the floor. It had no plan except to get as far away as possible. When it was halfway to the door, Rickman turned and his sharp eyes caught it. But by the time he’d eased himself off the chair, the ink had seeped out into the hallway.
There was light in the hallway, so the ink made itself skinny and slunk cautiously along the baseboard. Anyone looking would have missed it, or thought it was just shadow.
But Rickman knew better. He was old, arthritic, and overweight, but he hadn’t forgotten how to hunt. He prowled down the hall, head dipped low, then pounced. The ink must have sensed him coming, because it shot straight up the wall, faster than any shadow. Rickman banged his nose against the baseboard and landed clumsily on the floor. His nose wasn’t the only thing that hurt. Nothing is more important to a cat than its dignity, and he glared up at the ink splotch. The fur on his back lifted. With a hiss, he leapt, claws extended.
The splotch darted higher, just out of reach, and then swelled itself into a terrifying imitation of Rickman: an enormous black cat, back humped and jagged. Its vast, inky claws shot down the wall to swat Rickman. Yowling, Rickman somersaulted backward, then bolted.
The ink shrank back into a small blob and jiggled a bit as if laughing. It left no marks on the wall as it moved higher, onto the framed poster of Mr. Rylance’s best-known character, a mutant superhero called Kren.
But the moment the splotch tried to climb the glass, it slid right back down to the frame. It shuffled along a bit and tried again, with the same result, pouring off the glass like water. There was no getting a grip on this stuff! The ink gave up, moved back onto the wall, and kept going.
It wanted to find somewhere safe. When it reached a doorway, it slid inside the darkened room and down to the floor, where it paused. It sensed all the things in the room without knowing what they were. It had no words yet, no names for things like a desk, a bed, and a boy sleeping on the bed in a knotted tangle of sheets that made it look like he’d been battling something. The boy’s feet were on the pillow, and his head was where his feet should have been.
Beside the bed was a pile of books, and the ink splotch stopped warily. It waited. It sent out a tiny tendril, but these books didn’t try to suck it in. Only Mr. Rylance’s sketchbook seemed to want to do that. The ink slid closer.
It moved over an open math textbook and erased every word, number, and diagram it touched. It actually slurped the ink into itself. The ink paused, and formed itself into an isosceles triangle, and then a rhombus, before flowing on, erasing as it went. It left a blank trail behind it like a slug trail, except it wasn’t slimy. It was just shiny blank paper.
Off the math book and onto a novel. It wiped out most of the title and the cover illustration—it was in color, and the splotch seemed to like color because it gave a happy shimmer—and then found itself on a piece of illustration board.
The board had been divided up into squares and rectangles of different sizes. Most of them had stick figures penciled inside them, but in the very first squares were ink drawings. They weren’t very good. There were lots of smears. The ink splotch slid across, erasing as it went, and then stopped in the middle of the board.
This seemed like a good hiding place. The splotch stretched, then made itself as small as possible. It liked it here. The feel of the creamy paper was pleasing. The ink turned itself round in circles a few times, like a dog trying to get comfortable, and then was still.

Customer Reviews

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Inkling 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Tfloc More than 1 year ago
Inkling is a splot of ink that escapes from a sketch book. The Rylance family is stuck. The mom has recently died of cancer and everyone in the family is dealing with it to the best of their ability. Peter Rylance (the dad) is still grieving and depressed and Ethan is more of a caregiver than his father. Mr. Rylance is an author of graphic novels and it's his sketch book that Inkling has escaped from. Inkling gives every family member exactly what they need, but can they give Inkling what he needs? What a creative premise! I found myself really caring for Inkling and rooting for him. I liked that Inkling (and later Blotter) were influenced by what they ate/read. This book showed the family trying to recover and find the new normal after tragedy. It clearly shows that recovery isn't immediate and it's a struggle. A few throw away sentences at the end of the book lead me to believe a sequel might be in the future. It will be on my reading list!
InLibrisVeritas More than 1 year ago
Inkling is a middle-grade novel with a ton of heart and imagination! It centers around a young boy named Ethan, his family, and a little ink blob that changes their life. It’s an engaging and fun story that tackles some heavy themes without ever becoming too overwhelming. Inkling is a little ink-blot that comes to life in the middle of the night and finds himself at the center of a family as it struggles to heal and move forward. Ethan is stuck working on a graphic novel for school, but he can’t draw despite what his friends think. Ethan’s father is a comic book artist who hasn’t completed a single story since his wife’s death and finds himself stuck in a rut both creatively and in life. Sarah, Ethan’s little sister, wants a puppy and even though she doesn’t know it needs more time with her father. The death of the mother has created a cloud over their family, and Ethan is trying his hardest to push forward. Inkling’s entrance into his life brings joy and re-connection with his father, and the process in which they both heal, reconcile, and move forward is one that is truly heartfelt and emotional. The connection that Ethan has with his sister Sarah, who has Downs Syndrome, is truly wonderful. It’s so rare to see big/little sibling relationships that are not fraught with jealousy and teasing, so it’s lovely to see Ethan taking his role as a big brother so seriously. He cares for her, takes time out of each day to spend time playing pretend, and even though he does get annoyed he doesn’t let that affect his time with her. I think where this book excels is in the pure emotion on the page. It’s such a fun book to read, but it has a lot of moments where you get a bit choked up over what’s happening. It deals with death in a way that it can start a gentle understanding of the pain left behind, but also focuses on the healing that can come from being with family. As an adult, I could see Ethan’s father’s grief in a way that I understood and felt truly worried about, but it is written in such a subtle and gentle way that kids will also understand the distance between him and his children. It also tackles moral dilemmas involving inkling’s ability to draw. Is it okay to use Inkling to help with school work? Is it okay to have it draw pages for your career? To add to the charm it also has illustrations to accompany the story. It has cute little ink splotches on each page, and some equally wonderful drawings scattered throughout. This is my first Oppel book but I don’t think it will be my last. He has such a light yet immersive style, and he really excels at putting emotions on the page in a way that you can’t help but feel them. I think this is an excellent age-appropriate book that will engage kids (and adults) and keep them reading. I received this in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Inkling is an amazing book about a young boy and his new friend, a living splotch of ink. This book involves creativity and an incredible story of friendship. It is good for ages nine to twelve.
lauralovesreviewingLT More than 1 year ago
Books that encourage me to use my imagination, to stretch it, are always a delight. And Inkling was quite a stretch. Imagine an inkblot coming to life. All the things it could become. Ethan Rylance got himself in a big pickle. He volunteered to do the illustrations for his school’s project. What was he thinking? He can’t draw. Mr. Rylance is in a bigger pickle. It’s been two years since his last graphic novel and he’s got writer’s block in a big way. One night, while everyone is sleeping, the ink from his sketchbook comes together and escapes the page. Inkling is about to create. While this story touches on dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s not the main focus and most of it’s good plain fun. Some extra thrills are added when the Rylance family’s little secret is discovered by someone not so nice. This part I could go on and on about, but I’ll not spoil it for you. I was equal parts angry at the bad guys, worried about Inkling and hopeful for this family that needs something magical in their lives. Inkling is such a fun book. I gobbled this up as fast as Inkling slurped up ink.
LaynieBee-Blog More than 1 year ago
I never thought I’d want an inkblot as a best friend, but here we are after reading Inkling. The story about a boy named Ethan who is just trying to do the right thing in every situation and hold his family together takes an interesting turn when an inkspot escapes his papery bounds and take on the characteristics of a living being. It needs to eat, move, and grow. It learns through reading and begins to speak. Inkling has such a wonderful personality and it was so unexpected for him grow into someone (something?) that I would love to be around. The side characters, such as the father and the sister were well rounded. His sister has downs syndrome and Ethan takes wonderful care to help and nurture her without making her feel different or unusual. Her personality is fully formed without the pitfall that most disabled side characters experience of only being defined by their disability. Middle grade readers will love the humor that is sprinkled among serious topics. Difficult themes are addressed without bogging down the book and it will encourage a young reader to think deeply about things as they go.