In this month’s Between the Bookends, Sophie looks at five books including a behind-the-scenes look at The Rise of Skywalker, an in-depth look at plastic, and a return to Willows Whispers Veterinary Practice.
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Fan Phenomena: Star Wars, Edited by Mike Elovaara
Sophie’s first book this month was Fan Phenomena: Star Wars, edited by Mika Elovaara. Fan Phenomena has been one of Sophie’s favorite book series for many years now and she has devoured their books on Star Trek, Twin Peaks, Twilight, and many other fandoms. The Star Wars book, however, ended up being one of her least favorites so far.
Fan Phenomena: Star Wars contains ten essays covering a diverse range of ideas related to the Star Wars saga, from “Star Wars as a Character-Oriented Franchise” to “Fashion from a Galaxy Far, Far Away,” “The Marketing of The Force” to “Jediism as Religion? The Force as Old/New Religious Philosophy.” One of Sophie’s favorite essays in the collection had to be “Fans, Fics, and Films… ‘Thank the Maker(s)!'” by Marc Joly-Corcoran and Sarah Ludlow, which explored the complex situation regarding how copyright law sits alongside what is frequently termed a “modern mythology” and the relationship between Lucasfilm and fan producers. Her other favorite was “From Bikinis to Blasters: The Role of Gender in the Star Wars Community” by Erika Travis, which spoke to Sophie as a woman who grew up imagining herself as Princess Leia.
Sadly, she found some of the essays repetitive and one, in particular, had her rolling her eyes at the amateurish and occasionally cringe-worthy language it employed, not to mention the basic errors that even the most casual of Star Wars fans would have criticized. Sophie also took umbrage at the ratio of male to female writers which stands at a depressing 11:2—which makes the fact that both her favorite essays were at least half-penned by women the more interesting.
Sophie considered her biggest issue with the book, however, to be one she may not have noticed had she read it closer to its publication date back in 2013. The world of Star Wars has changed dramatically in those seven intervening years with a whole new trilogy of films released plus countless books, comics, TV shows, and more than have completely upended the saga—most notably making the entire Expanded Universe no longer canon and replacing it with a new Disney-led universe. This means that much of the content of the book no longer feels relevant. Rather, it belongs to a Star Wars fandom that quite simply no longer exists.
Sophie would love to see a new edition of Fan Phenomena: Star Wars that brings the book more up-to-date with this changing universe. For now, this is one book in the series that she would struggle to recommend.
The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker by Phil Szostak
Sticking with Star Wars, Sophie’s next book was The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker by Phil Szostak. These Art of… books have been released for all the Star Wars movies since Disney took over the franchise, but this is the first of the books that Sophie has had a chance to read.
Divided over five main sections, the book covers the Costume Department, Props Department, Creature & Droid Effects Department, and the Art, Set Decoration, and Computer Graphics Departments plus a final section that looks at post-production. Each section looks at specific parts of the film development in depth, tracing the evolution of a single item or idea from initial concept through to the finished version that appeared (or often didn’t appear) on screen.
Each part of the book is filled with concept art of everything from stormtrooper helmets to alien creatures, costumes to blasters. However, this is more than a glorified picture book. Captions and detailed text written by the artists, sculptors, and other behind-the-scenes crew members really helps you to understand what goes into making a film like this and the care that was taken to ensure every single piece fit into the wider Star Wars universe.
The book was also filled with fascinating insights into the plotlines that never came to be, ideas that were cut out or merged into different parts of the story. The serpent Rey encounters on Pasaana was originally going to be discovered in the forests outside the Resistance base on Ajan Kloss, while the festival scenes that took place in a desert were initially going to take place on a marshy, swampy planet more similar to Dagobah.
While Sophie still prefers to read Star Wars books set within the galaxy far, far away, rather than those about the filmmaking process, she still thoroughly enjoyed learning about the process that brought an end to the Skywalker Saga, and this book gave her an even deeper appreciation of all the hard work that goes into bringing such a complex story to life.
Catch Cat by Clare Grace
What do you get if you combine Where’s Waldo, an atlas, and a kid’s guide to the continents? Catch Cat by Clare Grace, which Sophie read with her son, does just that, making geography fun with a collection of detailed images to search through while learning more about each of the seven continents of the world.
The book begins with an introduction to Cat, who is off on a tour of the world. Cat can be seen flying a helicopter, climbing a mountain, and even zooming about on a skateboard. As he travels from continent to continent, you’ll need to try and find him in each of the different environments. He can be tricky to spot—it wouldn’t be much of a challenge if he weren’t—but it’s still easy enough that young kids will also be able to join in.
Each continent section opens with a double-page spread that includes an introductory paragraph discussing its size, typical environments, history, and natural life. Obviously, it’s pretty much impossible to sum up an entire continent in only a few sentences so this is vague, to say the least, but Sophie felt it did a good job of giving a kid-friendly impression in that short space. Also on these spreads are other items—landmarks, plants and animals, cultural objects like matryoshka dolls or people wearing traditional dress—to spot along with Cat. The final double-page spread for each continent is a large cartoon-style map filled with things to discover, including Cat and the objects noted on the previous pages.
Catch Cat was a fun way to fill a few hours and Sophie can imagine it would appeal to kids from pre-school to middle school age who will be able to take away something different from it depending on their ages. This is a great book to read together as a family.
Plastic: Past, Present, and Future by Eun-Ju Kim, Illustrated by Ji-Won Lee
Following on from her post about Earth Day picture books, Sophie was sent a copy of Plastic: Past, Present, and Future by Eun-Ju Kim. This short picture book talks about the history of plastic, how it can be so prevalent in our society, how it is made, and how it is causing a problem for our environment.
Unlike many books, Plastic actually presents a very balanced perspective. The authors explain the huge benefits plastic has given us over the last century. Its lighter weight means less fuel is used to transport it when compared to glass packaging, and single-use plastics in the medical field (e.g. gloves and syringes) help eliminate the risk of spreading diseases between people—something we have all become acutely aware of in recent weeks.
However, plastic isn’t all good and the book goes on to explain how plastic’s durability causes problems at the end of its life, discussing issues such as the great pacific garbage patch and microplastic being consumed by sea creatures. Some of the ideas being used to solve these problems make up the final section of the book.
Sophie really liked Plastic for its fair look at both viewpoints rather than simply equating plastic = evil as many books seem to do. The artwork was bright, colorful, and engaging, and the book offered up many questions for debate to keep you thinking and talking about the subject long after you had closed its pages. The only negative Sophie had was that it just… ended. She turned the page expecting to carry on reading only to find herself looking at the back cover.
Plastic would be a great book for families to read together, and it will hopefully inspire them to think about the plastic they use and how to make the best from this useful but potentially damaging substance.
Hex Vet: The Flying Surgery by Sam Davies
Sophie’s final book for the month is the first fiction entry in this month’s Between the Bookends. Sophie picked up volume two of the Hex Vet series of graphic novels, The Flying Surgery by Sam Davies, after enjoying the first one so much when she read it a few years ago.
In The Flying Surgery, it is the “Winged Creatures Clinic” day at the Willows Whispers Veterinary Practice and after launching the special clinic room into the air, the patients start arriving quickly. However, when a rare flying pig that appears to have been abused is brought in by a ranger from Wildlife Warlock Patrol, the day takes an unusual turn. Head veterinarian Dr. Talon leaves immediately to help hunt down the smugglers responsible and apprentices Clarion and Annette are left to run the clinic under the supervision of grumpy Nurse Chatsworth. When a man shows up to claim the pig and threatens the staff and clients, it’s up to the apprentices to find out the truth about what’s really going on.
Sophie loved this second outing into the pastel-colored world of Hex Vet. The story is thoughtful and fun but with surprising depth. The animal abuse plot point is well handled and has weight without becoming overly upsetting, and this could make the book a good choice for introducing that subject to younger readers. Sophie was also thrilled by the diversity on show, with many genders and skin tones present throughout, as well as a main character in a (flying) wheelchair. The artwork is so much fun and Sophie loved the choice of colors and lettering, finding herself wanting to immediately grab her sketchbook and start drawing scenes and creatures from the book.
The story ends with yet more questions left unresolved and a hint that Dr. Talon’s backstory may be more interesting than previously thought, so Sophie is already looking forward to reading Hex Vet volume three.
GeekMom received copies of these books for review purposes.