Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Read, You Must: The Force Awakens Incredible Cross-Sections

My grandfather would’ve absolutely loved the Incredible Cross-Sections books from DK.
Admittedly that’s a weird endorsement from a site that focuses on KIDS and Star Wars but it does connect with my childhood.

My grandfather was an enormously talented technical illustrator who designed everything from home blueprints to machinery diagrams. His works look like they were created on a computer, and would be today, but everything he drew was done by his skillful, steady hand. Though our styles were wildly different, our fondness for the craft of drawing drew us together.

Another way he and I connected was through my Star Wars (and G.I. Joe) toys from the early 1980’s. The vehicles usually came with diagrams or blueprints for assembly or so you’d know where to put stickers. I can’t remember how it started – likely a Christmas morning or my birthday – but Grandad really appreciated those insert pages. So much so that whenever I got a new toy I’d save the blueprints for Grandad. He admired the work that went into those diagrams and it gave us a reason to talk about the toys I loved. After he passed away in 2001 I discovered he still had some of those blueprints from my childhood toys.

As I look at these beautifully detailed pictures of the vehicles and starships in DK’s latest Star Wars Incredible Cross-Sections book I can’t help but think “save it for Grandad”. He would've loved it.

Like previous books in this series, The Force Awakens Incredible Cross-Sections is a large size, coffee-table type book filled with 48 pages of intricately detailed illustrations of the ins and outs of space ships and vehicles from the film. A highlight is a giant four-page foldout spread detailing the First Order Star Destroyer the Finalizer.

The hero of this book is illustrator Kemp Remillard although author Jason Fry, no stranger to Star Wars readers, gets to shine too with all sorts of details and information in the text.

The illustrations in Incredible Cross-Sections books are so detailed and comprehensive you can almost believe that these ships actually exist in real life. Vehicles are compared side-by-side as well so you can see how big Kylo Ren’s shuttle is compared to the Millennium Falcon or Poe’s X-wing. Also included are looks at some vehicle that were barely visible on-screen, like First Order Snow Speeder.

There are several photographs from The Force Awakens in here and seeing them in such a large format – almost poster size - is fantastic. Perhaps they are some sort of “filler” to make the book meatier but even so they are still welcome. No other book I’ve seen has pictures from the movie this big. Another nice plus is the paper itself is noticeably thick and hefty, which should make this book part of any young fan’s collection for years to come.

The Force Awakens Incredible Cross-Sections is an excellent and rich resource for younglings (and adults) who really want to dive into the details. Grandparents might love it too!

Publisher’s Recommendation: Ages 8 – 12 years

Check this one out too!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Read, You Must: MORE Star Wars Little Golden Books!

In follow-up to the wonderful Little Golden Books adaptions of the first six Star Wars movies (isn’t it awesome to be able to say “the first six Star Wars movies” now??) comes three brand-new picture books in the series: I Am A Jedi, I Am A Pilot and I Am A Droid.

Written by Christopher Nicholas and illustrated with paintings by Alan Batson, Ron Cohee and Chris Kennett these three books focus on different character types found in the Star Wars movies. All three have classic retro-styled artwork and use examples from throughout ALL SEVEN films (again, so cool to say!). 

Each book features age-appropriate vocabulary to compare and contrast character sizes, shapes, emotions and roles in the universe.

The books are a lot of fun and ideal for parent-child read-along times. It’s wonderful to see new The Force Awakens characters like Poe Dameron and BB-8 alongside Darth Maul and Mace Windu, not to mention plenty of Luke, Han & Chewbacca.

This delightful series will continue later this year with I Am A Sith. Apparently there is also one coming in July called I Am A Princess. It would be great to see one called “I Am A LEADER” centred on Padmé, Leia (aka General Organa), Mon Mothma and Hera from Star Wars Rebels. Of course, Rey needs to be in one of these books too! 

Coming Soon!
For fans of the movie adaptations, yes there’s a The Force Awakens Little Golden Book coming too!

Publisher’s recommendation: Ages 2 - 5

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Read, You Must: Before The Awakening

Hot on the heels of middle-grade adventure novels featuring Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo comes another great Star Wars book from Disney/Lucasfilm Press for strong young readers: Before the Awakening.  As the title suggests, this book is set shortly before the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The cover art makes it clear that the focus here is on Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron, the three younger stars of the new movie.

Instead of one novel-length tale though, Before the Awakening is actually three stories by Greg Rucka (Smuggler’s Run, Shattered Empire), each featuring one of the new main characters. All three adventures are set before these characters have ever met so there are no interconnecting threads to unite the stories. Feel free to read them in any order you wish but watch the movie first even though this is set before the film. There's a reason it wasn't released before the movie.

Even my friends call me FN-2187
Before the Awakening is a good way to learn more about these new characters and what they were doing in the months and days before The Force Awakens. There’s a lot to enjoy here but don’t expect this book to answer all of our questions about Rey’s mysterious past. Hopefully that will come in the next movie!

Finn’s story takes place before Poe Dameron ever gave him that name, so he is only called FN-2187 here as Rucka details his First Order Stormtooper training. FN-2187 is one of the best, if not THE best Stormtrooper currently being trained but he shows signs of caring too much about his fellow soldiers and not enough about following the orders of his commanders. For a leader like Captain Phasma that can be a problem. The story shows the beginnings of Finn’s behaviour in the movie.

For those who wished Captain Phasma – the chrome-coloured Stormtrooper leader – had more of a presence in The Force Awakens, she plays a bigger role here.

Also by Greg Rucka
Rey’s story takes place entirely on Jakku and emphasizes what a lonely misfit she is there. It’s a sad tale at times about Rey struggling to survive on her own in a very hostile place. She tries to trust others and that can be a dangerous thing in a region of scavengers. Her impressive knowledge of technology and piloting are explained in detail. It’s great to have a few answers to a character that leaves any viewer of The Force Awakens with a LOT of questions.

The third story focuses on pilot Poe Dameron and how he came to join The Resistance. Poe’s first formal meeting with General Organa (Leia) is detailed here along with a lot of space combat and scenes of ace piloting. Poe is considered one of the best pilots in the galaxy and this book makes it clear why. 

Fans of BB-8 (and who doesn’t love BB-8?) will be happy to know the little rolling droid features in Poe’s story too!

One thing that really struck me was how serious this book is yet it is in keeping with the previous three novels (we need a name for this series, Disney!). Humour is minimal and drama is emphasized. Poe’s story does offer some thrills with the adventure but both Finn and Rey’s stories could’ve used a little more light moments. Then again, considering their unpleasant lives before The Force Awakens certainly laughs would’ve been sparse.

With select scenes beautifully illustrated by Phil Noto, Before the Awakening is an important companion to the film and a fitting fourth book in this set. Hopefully someday all questions about Rey and others will be answered but until then here’s a good start!

Publisher's Recommendation: Ages 8 - 12

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