By now, many of you may of a certain age and state of parenthood should have received or given a copy of Jeffrey Brown's books Darth Vader and Son and/or Vader's Little Princess on Father's Day, Christmas or another gift giving holiday but did you know that Star Wars-know-it-all with the lightsaber-sharp sense of humor also writes notebook novels for kids? And, as someone who reads a ton of kids books, I am thrilled to say that Jeffrey Brown's are really, really good on so many levels!
Basically, Jeffrey Brown is a genius for creating all of his Star Wars books, but the Jedi Academy especially. And, while I focus mostly on the smart humor in this review, Brown is an astute writer who layers in plot threads that tackle bullying, friendship, determination and the difficulties of being the new kid in sensitive and insightful ways. Set 100 years before Episode 1, the main character is young Roan Novachez, son of a pilot, younger brother of Dav, currently a student at Pilot Academy Middle School. Now that he has finished primary school, Roan is sure that he will get his acceptance letter to pilot school. When his application is rejected, he sadly ponders his fate at Tatooine Agricultural Academy - "will need to spend more time washing dirt out of clothes, have to shovel bantha fertilizer, sand gets in underwear all the time." Instead, Roan gets a letter of acceptance to Jedi Academy telling him that his application to Pilot Academy Middle School caught the attention of Master Yoda.
I call Jedi Academy a notebook novel rather than a graphic novel because, while it is definitely a graphic novel, a good portion of the book is comprised of full page spreads that are letters, pages ripped out of notebooks, class schedules, report cards, homework assignments, pages from the Padawan Observer, the school paper, holomail, school dance posters. Then there are the hilarious, "Things Yoda Said This Week," ("A Jedi must be self-sufficient, hmm? Learn to cook, a Jedi should.") that are occasionally replaced by "Things Kitmum Said This Week," and "Things Mr. Garfield Said This Week." Kitmum is the Wookie PE teacher, roars and growls interpreted by Roan, and Mr. Garfield is the Sith instructor for lightsabers and Home Economics. Another portion of Jedi Academy is Roan's journal, giving readers an inside glimpse into Roan's mind. We learn that he has "started working on 'Ewok Pilot' comics for the Padawan Observer," and that he got an "A" on his essay about the "economic effects of the Cron supernova on galactic trade routes," as well as more his personal thoughts and feelings. Jedi Academy ends with Roan and his friends heading home for summer vacation, Roan finally feeling like he belongs at Jedi Academy, especially after he sees his schedule for next year that includes Starfighter Flight Training.
Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan finds Roan back for a second year and a few new additions to Jedi Academy. First, there is Gammy, the "first Gamorrean to achieve the rank of galactic gourmet" and a class pet - a voorpak from Naboo that looks a bit like a cross between a tribble, a puffskein and a tarantula. There is also a game of intergalactic dodgeball and a huge food fight in the cafeteria. As the school year ends, Roan writes, "Last year, I was worried about having any friends here, but it ended up being easy. This year, I wasn't worried at all, and I almost ended up losing all my friends. That's another thing I learned - if you want to find something out, sometimes you just have to ask." Roan goes on to say that this seems obvious, and, while it is, I think it's something that bears repeating - to kids and adults.
Finally, both Jedi Academy and Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan! end with pages that encourage and instruct readers on how to Start Your Own Journal! and how to Write Your Own Stories! that are funny and to the point and, hopefully, inspirational!