Sunday, August 28, 2016

Jedi Academy: A New Class and a New Beginning

The fourth book in the Jedi Academy series is full of “new” stuff indeed.

After three books by Jeffrey Brown focused on a young Jedi named Roan Novachez, A New Class starts fresh with author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Lunch Lady, Platypus Police Squad, Punk Farm) taking over this Scholastic series.

Krosoczka’s art and writing styles are different than Brown’s but he does keep the look somewhat consistent with the earlier books. He is clearly a very talented visual storyteller and it will be nice to see him make this series even more his own if he continues with it.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka (right)

A New Class focuses on a brand new main character so it really is a new start to the series.     
For those who are unfamiliar with the Jedi Academy series the books are middle-grade, thoroughly-illustrated novels “told” by a young Jedi student. Imagine a Diary of a Wimpy Kid–type book in Star Wars.
This series is an alternate take on Star Wars where the Jedi are not a serious, monk-like order of Masters and Apprentices. Instead, this is a North American middle-school set in space with a lot of Star Wars puns and jokes throughout. One example, in the movies the Jedi are forbidden to have personal attachments to other people (a crucial story point made over and over) but in the Jedi Academy world, the students have mixed-gender dances, have dates, crushes and even fly home frequently to see their families! So basically you need to disregard everything you know about the Jedi Order or George Lucas’ vision of Star Wars to enjoy these books. 

A New Class begins the tale of Victor Starspeeder, a likeable young Jedi student transferring from another school to the Jedi Academy on Coruscant. In his first year there he meets a few new friends, discovers he has some talent that helps the drama club and has to learn a few lessons along the way with the help of his big sister, a fellow Jedi student. The bigger issues for Victor though are his romantic feelings for a classmate and his unfortunate choice of friendships. Everything builds towards – nope, not a lightsaber battle – nope, not a space battle – the big school play at the end of the year! The drama here is literally about drama!

Along the way are field trips to Endor (the Ewoks’ home moon), food fights, lightsaber training and more. Long-time Star Wars fans will appreciate the dangerous encounter with a Gorax, a creature that debuted in the Ewoks TV movie Caravan of Courage back in 1984! There’s also comic strips throughout parodying Garfield, Peanuts and Family CircusWhile only a small portion of the book, there also is a very positive depiction of step-parenting in A New Class, with the character of Russell.

Jeffrey Brown’s three Jedi Academy books were filled with gags on the theme of putting modern Earth things into Star Wars for a laugh. Jarrett Krosoczka uses far less of that type of humour but it’s still there for readers who enjoy that. For the rest there’s a fast-paced story of a young boy trying to fit in.

Since A New Class begins a brand new storyline in the school, readers could easily start here. It’s not vital to have read the first three books in this series before enjoying this one but books 1 – 3 should be read in that order. 

(Publisher’s recommendation: ages 8 – 12)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Catch up with Star Wars Rebels!

If you are new to Star Wars Rebels, or just hungry for more Rebels while waiting for Season 3, check out a few terrific books you may have missed when they first appeared.

Obviously watching the season 1 and 2 episodes is top priority for getting caught up. Season one has been available for some time and season 2 will be released on DVD & Bluray on August 30 (N. America). 

Over the past two years many entertaining books were also released to expand the experience, particularly for younger fans. Here’s just a few recommendations:

Ezra’s Gamble is a middle-grade novel by Ryder Windham that introduces the main character Ezra before he meets any of the Ghost crew. What was his life like before Ezra met Kanaan and Hera? Find out in this book. Highly recommended! Our review here. 

Star Wars Rebels: The Visual Guide & Star Wars Rebels Visual Guide: Epic Battles  If you want to dive deeper into the details of Rebels, these books are your best bet! Loaded with full-colour pictures from the episodes and all kids of information from author Adam Bray you may not catch watching the show. 

Ezra’s Journal & Sabine: My Rebel Sketchbook are two books “written by” Ezra and Sabine themselves! Ok, not really (cartoons don’t usually write real-world books) but that’s the idea here and the reader can get inside the mind of the characters in a whole different way with these middle-grade books. Review of both here.

Draw Star Wars Rebels from Klutz Books is a great place to start if the show inspires you to create your own Rebels adventures. Step-by-step instructions and even comes with art supplies! Our review here.

Rise of the Rebels is a chapter-book retelling by Michael Kogge of the short videos released before the Rebels show premiered. You can see these shorts online and on the DVD or Bluray or enjoy them expanded upon in this book.

For younger readers Ezra’s Wookiee Rescue Book & CD is a shortened version of the debut special Spark of Rebellion, this storybook comes with a CD reading of the book along with music, sound effects and actors from the show. Very entertaining!

The Servants of the Empire series – In the first season of Rebels viewers met Zare Leonis, a young Imperial cadet with a secret agenda, who befriends Ezra in the episode “Breaking Ranks”. Zare hasn’t appeared much in the show since, but is the main character of the Servants of the Empire series of middle-grade novels written by Jason Fry.

Do you have a favourite Star Wars Rebels book, toy or game? Did we miss something awesome? Post a comment below!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Star Weird: Star Wars Scratch and Sniff

Star Wars tie-in products have always come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes companies try to create something completely unique to grab the attention of young fans. Occasionally things get a little odd! Here's our first look at such items from the past in a new segment called STAR WEIRD!

The last we'll see of Star Wars Scratch & Sniff?
Back in 1997 the original trilogy (Episodes 4-6) films were being re-released to movie theatres and it was a BIG deal. Fans had kept the galaxy alive over the years, but to the general public, Star Wars had been over since 1983's Return of the Jedi.

Along with the renewed public interest in Star Wars came many related products, including this bizarre kids' book from the "Golden Books" series (at the time not called "Little Golden Books") Star Wars: A More Wretched Hive: The Mos Eisley Cantina (1997). What makes this one so odd? It's a Scratch and Sniff  book!

Yep that's right. You get to SMELL the infamous Mos Eisley Cantina, inside and out!
From 1986

Scratch and Sniff books were a popular novelty in publishing during the 1980's but not very common nowadays. There were earlier titles that incorporated the concept into Star Wars books. A More Wretched Hive appears to be the last one made.

The story, told by Margaret Ryder, is a quick version of Luke and Obi-Wan's first meeting with Han Solo and Chewbacca, then blasting off in the Millennium Falcon. Ryder has fun with emphasizing the gross smells the characters encounter. The book is illustrated with photos specifically from the 1997 "Special Edition" version of Episode 4. However it's the smells that make A More Wretched Hive stand out!

Smell Jabba the Hutt if you dare!
Along the way the reader enjoys the scents of:

- "horrible" smells coming from the Cantina
- "foamy, fruity" drinks served inside
- "the sharp, electrical scent" of Obi-Wan's lightsaber (smells a little like cinnamon)
- Chewbacca's "strong, swampy odor" (smells like patchouli oil)
- Greedo's bad breath "worse than a Sarlacc" (yes, it is!)
- "Jabba's rotten aroma" (did anyone really want to smell this??)
- the Millennium Falcon's "hot starship exhaust"

If you feel the need to join in these delightful smells A More Wretched Hive is often still available online or in used book stores. For good or bad, the 19 year-old smell stickers may not work so well anymore though.

As Jar Jar would say:
Pee- youssa!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Read, You Must: Star Wars ABC-3PO

New from Disney-Lucasfilm Press comes Star Wars ABC-3PO, Galactic Basic Edition, a fun, funny and alphabetical look at the characters and creatures that make up the galaxy far, far away.

Authors Calliope Glass and Caitlin Kennedy have fun with the poetry and the book is wonderfully illustrated by Katie Cook’s cartoon art. (Artist Katie Cook was once a guest on the Star Wars Kidscast podcast). The poems are nicely varied in style, rhythm and length and consistently light in tone.

Each letter has a focused poem (from Admiral Akbar to Zeb) spotlighting characters, starships and moments from Star Wars Rebels and of course most of the Star Wars feature films including The Force Awakens. There’s no inclusion of anything from Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith or even The Clone Wars TV show though.

A few samples of the fun rhymes inside:
From E for Ewoks:
“Ewoks are tricky. They seem fluffy and cute. But if they attack, you might want to scoot.”

From M for Millennium Falcon:
“A bucket of bolts, This hunk of junk, She jostles and jolts, From cockpit to trunk.”

From X for X-Wing:
“A fighting pair, droid and human, Astromech and rebel crewman.”

Some of the humour in ABC-3PO may be lost on casual fans, directly referencing longtime fans’ inside jokes like “It’s A Trap!” and Stormtroopers’ terrible marksmanship. At times it feels like the book is trying too hard to be witty – even the subtitle “Galactic Basic Edition” is never explained and becomes another inside joke and possibly confusing to casual or new fans. (FYI: In Star Wars lingo "Galactic Basic" just means English.)

Also by Calliope Glass
However, if you happen to be a parent AND a serious Star Wars nut like most of the readers of this blog, ABC-3PO is a fun way to reinforce and build on the basics, or to apply what your child is learning already from preschool, kindergarten or workbooks like the wonderful Star Wars Preschool ABC Fun from Workman Publishing.

Also by Katie Cook
Then again, the kids may have to wait until the adults are done enjoying this one! 

(Publisher’s recommendation: Ages 3-5)

Did you know?

There have been other Star Wars alphabet books before including Scholastic’s Star Wars ABC (2010). ABC-3PO has more in common though with the 1984 Read-Along Book Star Wars Adventures in ABC which also contained humourous poems for each alphabetical entry. That book had very silly poems but surprisingly serious-looking artwork inside.

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