Posted in Middle Grade Fiction, Middle Grade Graphic Novel

“Star Wars: Jedi Academy”

Star Wars: Jedi Academy
Author/Illustrator: Jeffrey Brown
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: August 2013
ISBN: 978-0545505178
Lexile Level: 650

The first volume of the Jedi Academy graphic novels introduces us to Roan, a boy on Tatooine who ends up going to the Jedi Academy after he is rejected from Pilot School. We follow him through his first year through a collection of journal entries, traditional comic panels, and other inserts.

Jeffrey Brown does a fantastic job introducing us to Roan and his struggle as he enters middle school. Roan’s primary problem is that he’s behind most of the Jedi students, who have been training for years. We’re not clued in to why Roan has been selected only now for training, but maybe that will come out in the later volumes.

The cast of students is just big enough to be comfortable and still feel like an entire class. Of course, there are the stereotypical bullies (one has to wonder why such children would be permitted to train as Jedi) but their behavior seems to be mostly to provide some conflict. One thing that stands out is Roan’s comments on how busy he is and how there’s so much to do for class. I like this inclusion—it seems like a little thing, but that is a legitimate adjustment problem that readers may have as they transition from elementary to middle school themselves.

The books are great for anyone with only a basic knowledge of the Star Wars universe. Different creatures are explained and it may help children who are 1) interested in seeing the movies for the first time, or 2) have seen the movies, but struggled with the different terms being thrown out.

Though I use the term graphic novel, this is really more of a chapter book, with the comic book panels being used sparingly. Fans of Captain Underpants and other hybrid books will enjoy Jedi Academy.

Final thoughts: Great for kids who love Star Wars, as well as fans of hybrid novels. It’s a good bridge for those who are transitioning into chapter books, but may need work on their stamina. Also good for those who get bored with traditional novel formats.

Posted in Middle Grade Graphic Novel

“Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice”

Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice
Author: Derek Fridolfs
Illustrator: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: January 2016
ISBN: 978-0545825016
Lexile Level: 560

Study Hall of Justice is a juvenile graphic novel produced by DC. It features their main heroes—Bruce, Clark, and Diana—as students, along with many of the villains from the DC universe. Bruce finds the new school suspicious, and recruits Diana and Clark to help him investigate. The book is a mixture of traditional comic format, diary entries, and other sorts of posters, notes, and memos. It all works together to form an interesting story.

There are a lot of references in this comic, and many I doubt younger readers will catch. Even I’m not familiar with many of them, as I’m mostly familiar with the Batman mythos, and not so much Superman or Wonder Woman. I’m not sure how younger readers will be expected to make the connections between a lot of these characters and their mainstream counterparts.

The other issue is the pictures. While I don’t mind the penciled style, the lack of detail makes it hard to tell from the pictures who various characters are. I think the book would be better served with either color illustrations, or more detailed black and white drawings. For example, if it wasn’t for a color picture on the back of the book, I’d have no clue that one of the students is meant to be a young Joker.

That said, this book is hilarious. Bruce is serious and paranoid, much like his comic book counterpart. He is obsessed with getting information on everyone and leaving no stone unturned. Clark is super nice and friendly, to the point of being a little naive. Diana has a bit of a temper, but is hard core. She serves as a perfect balance between Bruce and Clark. Even Alfred gets a bit of snark in, mostly in his little notes to Bruce. The portrayal of these three is generally a lot of fun.

While I really like the story, and there’s a lot of humor to be found here, I feel like younger readers simply won’t get it. The reader needs an existing knowledge of the DC universe, and many of the jokes are easily missed. The lack of definition and clear identification of side characters often leads to confusion as to who these villains are supposed to be. It’s a great book—but not a great introduction to the DC universe.

Final Verdict: Better suited for older readers or those really familiar with the DC universe. For younger readers, DC Super Hero Girls may be a better choice.