The only thing better than a long-awaited new book is a long-awaited new book by one of your favorite authors. Adam Gidwitz is the author. The book is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – So You Want to Be a Jedi? It’s part of a trilogy by three terrific authors (Gidwitz, Alexandra Bracken, and Tom Angleberger). I just finished the book yesterday (yes, I read it out of sequence). I read the book not as a Star Wars fan (I like the original Star Wars trilogy just fine, but I’m not an aficionado), but as an Adam Gidwitz fan. Now I want to read the other two books. The book was that good and the author is that talented.
I was introduced to Gidwitz’s debut novel, A Tale Dark & Grimm, in March 2011 when I read it for a freelance job I had writing teacher’s guides for audiobooks. Over about 18 years, I probably read somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 books for that job. This was one of my all-time favorites. It was as if I’d discovered gold. I told my then-seventh graders about it. They asked me to read it to them, which I did when they were in eighth grade. It was a hit, always in circulation, and had excellent word-of-mouth reviews by middle schoolers. There aren’t a lot of books that enjoy that kind of widespread popularity across that 11-14 age group.
If you aren’t familiar with it, A Tale Dark & Grimm features Hansel and Gretel wending their way through some of the Brothers Grimm lesser-known tales. And Gidwitz tells it like it was, with all the grim gore these stories originally possessed. Jacob and Wilhelm would be pleased. No one in these stories is whistling while they work. This book is gruesome and frightening, which kids kind of like (whether their parents like it or not). But you know what else it is? It’s funny. Something that sets this book (and Gidwitz’s subsequent novels, In a Glass Grimmly and The Grimm Conclusion) apart from scare-me books that kids enjoy is humor. Gidwitz’s narration interjects witty warnings and asides throughout the chapters, just when they’re needed to ease the tension.
Gidwitz has a quality that all children’s book authors need, but not all of them have. He understands kids. He knows what entertains and interests them. He can get them to think about right and wrong without being Mr. GrownUpPreachy. He speaks to them, not at them. He’s a traditional storyteller with a modern-day twist.
We were fortunate enough to have Gidwitz visit our students not once, but twice. Both visits were successful beyond my expectations.There aren’t a lot of people who can hold 100 students in grades 5 through 8 in rapt attention for an hour, but he can and did. As part of his second visit, we were able to have 25 students attend an after-school writing workshop with him. It was an amazing opportunity and I still have parents and students asking when we’re going to do it again.
It’s hard to pinpoint the best things to come out of those visits and the popularity of the Tale Dark & Grimm series among our students. The best I can do is narrow it down to two. The new interest in/appreciation for the fairy tale genre and the number of students who expressed an interest in someday being authors were possibly the greatest outcomes. A strictly personal third fantastic outcome was a job for my eldest daughter, but that’s a long story for a different type of blog.
In July 2014 I happened upon this YouTube video from Disney Publishing WorldWide announcing the upcoming Star Wars books. It was great to see Gidwitz included among a cadre of accomplished children’s book authors who would take on the project (note: the slate of authors changed from the time this video was produced). While, as stated earlier, I’m not a Star Wars mega-fan, the original Star Wars trilogy is iconic for my generation. I remember my workaholic dad taking the day off to take all five of us kids (ages 14 to 5) to see the first film, now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, during the week that it opened. We kids knew it was a big deal. Not only did Dad take a day off, but he was taking us to the movies – he almost never went to the movies – and without Mom along to help him. So I eagerly awaited the publication of this new book. While the Star Wars franchise has many fairy tale elements, I was very interested in how Gidwitz would interpret Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.
It’s terrific. In this novel, Adam Gidwitz does what he does best. He gets the reader immersed in the story. You are Luke Skywalker. You are training to be a Jedi. You have to save your dearest friends and battle your greatest foe. I thoroughly enjoyed it. What is really unique, really gives it an inimitable twist, are the 24 Jedi lessons interspersed throughout the book. As I read each one, I thought how much fun they would be as class activities and how much excitement they would add to the read aloud experience. Now I really want Gidwitz to come back to our school and teach our students how to be Jedi.
Until next time, keep reading!