Thursday, February 25, 2010
Series review: "Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice," by various authors
By Dave Wolverton
The Dark Rival (1999)
By Jude Watson
The Hidden Past (1999)
By Jude Watson
A friend has convinced me to try my hand this year for the first time at writing children's literature; but I don't actually know anything about children's literature, so am starting the process among other ways by first reading a stack of popular books that have been recommended to me. Today's titles are from yet another long-running series of chapter books for grade-schoolers, the kind of franchise where an endless amount of 30,000-word volumes are cranked out once a month by a series of essentially anonymous authors; and this is actually one of the types of employment I'm hoping to find in the industry myself, which is why I'm reading so many of these types of books these days, to understand more about how exactly they're written.
And indeed, after expecting these to be only middling titles that rely mostly on the strength of the "Star Wars" brand for their commercial success, the three volumes of the "Jedi Apprentice" series I read (volumes 1, 2 and 3) were instead some of the better chapter books I've so far come across this year, with challenging vocabularies and nicely complex moral lessons that have more in common with Zen Buddhism than the Babysitters Club. (But then again, this series is put out by the always excellent Scholastic, so I guess I should've known better.) Although these will only appeal almost exclusively to boys in the 10-to-12 range, they're excellent for what they are, and get the classic "rules" of writing for this age group almost perfect -- for example, they include plenty of periil but very little real-world danger (helped immensely by their fantastical setting), feature plenty of action but a stripped-down non-confusing plot, and also do a nice job for sci-fi novels at exploring both school environments and inter-gender relationships at that age in depth. They're on the large side of such books, a full 30,000 to 35,000 words apiece, and despite their subject matter are not recommended for so-called "reluctant readers."