Stack Overflow: Movie Mania

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Love movies? And books? You’ve come to the right place. Today’s Stack Overflow is full of books about movies or inspired by movies … or at least tangentially related to them. Hey, it’s called “Stack Overflow” for a reason.

Anna Loves Elsa

Anna Loves Elsa by Brittany Rubiano, illustrated by Brittney Lee

Maybe you like Frozen; maybe you can’t stand it. In our house, it’s a hit, but wouldn’t it be nice if there had been a little more of the fun sisterhood before everything went south? Well, here it is, in this picture book. Anna Loves Elsa is a board book with pull tabs, popups, and flaps to open, depicting Anna and Elsa as little kids, playing together and having fun. This is pure, pre-angst Frozen, and it’s pretty delightful (even if you know that the appearance of Olaf on the last page means that winter is coming).

Anna Loves Elsa
Pulling the tab makes Anna swing. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The book is narrated by Anna, who just talks excitedly about all the reasons she loves Elsa: she’s great at hide-and-seek, she shares her chocolate, and so on. It’s a very brief book, even as picture books go, but it’s adorable. I really love the illustrations by Brittney Lee (who also worked on the film itself)–they remind me of Golden Books from my own childhood. It looks like Lee also illustrated a longer picture book, A Sister Just Like Me, about the time not shown in the film when Anna and Elsa are growing up. I’m going to have to add that one to my own list.

Anna Loves Elsa isn’t available until December, but if you’ve got tiny Frozen fans in your life, this could make a great holiday gift!

Star Wars novels

Star Wars middle-grade novels

I never read any of the Star Wars novels when I was a kid, but in more recent years it seems like there are all sorts of new Star Wars-related books every day, from the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars to the Epic Yarns board books to the Tony DiTerlizzi-Ralph McQuarrie picture book. This new set of novels, based on the original trilogy, has got me pretty excited. I picked the first one up on Thursday and had read through all three by Sunday evening.

Lucasfilm Press (a division of the Disney Book Group) tapped three middle-grade novelists to retell the first three films. Alexandra Bracken, author of the Darkest Minds trilogy, takes on A New Hope in her book The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy. I picked this up and almost finished it within a single day. She incorporates a lot of the dialogue from the film, but the novel allows her to get at the characters’ internal struggles, too, and I think it works well. She takes the three archetypes and shows how these three familiar characters grow beyond these simple labels.

There are a few illustrations scattered throughout the books by Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston, and it was fun seeing some concept art that looks quite different from the cinematic versions we’re used to. And how about those covers by Khoa Ho? I’d love to have poster-sized versions of these.

Adam Gidwitz takes on The Empire Strikes Back with So You Want to Be a Jedi? Gidwitz has experience with retelling stories: he’s known for the Tale Dark and Grimm trilogy, and his take is that Star Wars is the greatest modern fairy tale, meant to put you in the shoes of the hero. Gidwitz’s approach is a bit different, and feels more modern: he talks to you, the reader, putting you in Luke’s shoes, and the narrator is a bit snarky. After all, if you want to be a Jedi, then you should walk in his shoes, right? Between chapters there are training exercises: meditation, patience, attention. The narrative style of this one wasn’t my favorite–it felt a little jarring to have somebody using modern Earth slang and similes to describe this long-ago galaxy far, far away, but maybe that will go over well with the target audience.

Finally, Tom Angleberger wrote the last book, Beware the Power of the Dark Side! Angleberger has already spent time writing about the Star Wars universe: his Origami Yoda series is a huge hit. He loves the details so much that his book–the longest of the three–has footnotes in it. His approach is somewhere in between Bracken and Gidwitz, with some modern sensibilities but with a less intrusive narrator (though he does use first-person occasionally, like in a footnote). Like the movie, the book is full of action and adventure and humor, but there’s also room for the quiet moments, the hard lessons and suffering that our heroes go through.

Angleberger sums it up nicely in his Author’s Note: “Not every story is worth reading if you already know the ending. But this story is.”

GeekDad Jamie Greene interviewed all three authors for his Great Big Beautiful Podcast, so watch for that later this week.

Nuts in Space

Nuts in Space by Elys Dolan

Dolan’s first picture book, Weasels, was a funny book about weasels plotting world domination (mentioned in Stack Overflow last year), but this one is a mashup of Star Wars and Star Trek. The fearless crew has managed to retrieve the Lost Nuts of Legend and plots a course for home–but things aren’t going as planned. As they search for the way home, they’ll encounter a small forest moon (populated by adorable-but-vicious bears and the Death Banana (run by a familiar-looking monkey dressed in all black).

Like Weasels, Nuts in Space has a lot of little dialogue bubbles and visual gags that add to the story, making it something of a cross between a picture book and a comic book. It’s been one of my toddler’s favorites even though she doesn’t know all the references.

Avengers Storybook Collection

Marvel Avengers Storybook Collection

Okay, technically this isn’t directly related to movies (and I probably should’ve mentioned it back while Age of Ultron was still in theaters) but, you know, it’s Avengers.

The Marvel Avengers Storybook Collection is a nice, hefty hardcover book for kids. It has 19 stories, written in an easy-to-read style that will work well for kids who aren’t yet into full chapter books yet. Even though the book is 300 pages, each story is a stand-alone, so you can pick and choose any of them in bite-sized pieces. The stories have illustrations scattered throughout, but aren’t a full comic book, so I think they would also make a great bridge for reluctant readers who like the Avengers.

Avengers Storybook
There are plenty of illustrations, and the text is fairly large, like an easy chapter book. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

My youngest (a toddler) likes to pick out stories to read from the table of contents, and my two older girls (9 and 11) have read through it themselves, too. The tales are a mix of the goofy and the serious, and many of them seem to have some sort of lesson in them–although Tony Stark doesn’t seem to learn anything from his mistakes, which I suppose is in keeping with his character.

The Art of Pan

The Art of Pan by Christopher Grove

Pan, the latest cinematic retelling of the story of Peter Pan, is in theaters now. I haven’t seen the film yet, but from the trailers I could already tell that it’s chock-full of eye-popping visuals. This gorgeous book from Insight Editions gives you a closer look at everything: the characters and costumes, the landscapes of London and Neverland, even some of the flying special effects. The book includes a mixture of photographs from the production and concept illustrations, and it’s beautiful to flip through. One note: unlike many of Insight Editions other “art of” books, this one does not have any extra bits tucked into the pages.

Peter Pan

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, illustrated by Minalima

And while we’re on the subject of Peter Pan, how about a beautiful version of the original story itself?

This lovely hardcover of Peter Pan is designed to look like something from an earlier era, with off-white paper and a limited color palette of mostly orange and green for the illustrations. There are 10 interactive elements tucked in throughout the book–maps and newspaper clippings and some fun unfolding illustrations. The illustrations and elements are by Minalima, the design studio responsible for creating the graphic props in the Harry Potter films, and they’re quite wonderful.

Peter Pan
The section about the hollow trees has this flip-up forest. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If you haven’t ever actually read Peter Pan, you should! I first read it a decade ago, realizing that I pretty much just knew the story from the Disney film, and I was surprised to find that the book itself was wonderful, and cheeky, and almost unsuitable for children. Barrie makes all sorts of snarky asides to the reader–akin to the gags in kids’ movies that are put in for the parents’ sake. It’s been a while since I’ve re-read it, so this may be next on my kids’ read-aloud list. Or I’ll just read it myself.

Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History

Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History by Michael Klastorin with Randal Atamaniuk

Okay, last one–and this one’s a biggie. By now you already know that I’ve got Back to the Future on the brain, and here’s one of the biggest reasons why. This enormous book chronicles the development and creation of the trilogy, with photos, stories, and plenty of extras tucked into the pages, like Marty’s letter to Doc in 1955 or the vanishing photo of Marty and his siblings or–my favorite–a movie poster for Jaws 19.

Michael Klastorin was the production publicist on the two sequels, so he has intimate knowledge of those two films, plus access to storyboards, production photos, design sketches, and more. He and Randal Atamaniuk were able to interview much of the original cast and crew for behind-the-scenes stories.

Back to the Future
This spread also includes the book cover for George McFly’s novel. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are a lot of things I’d known about, like the fact that Eric Stoltz was originally hired to be Marty McFly, but the book goes into a lot more detail about both the original casting choice and the very difficult decision to replace him after nearly half of the shooting schedule. It also goes into some of the conflicts the filmmakers had with Crispin Glover (and his subsequent replacement by Jeffrey Weissman in the sequels).

Back to the Future
This page, showing costumes for the “future,” also includes a receipt for the sports almanac. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I always love digging into “how it was done” and this book scratches that itch. Besides the stories about how the film was conceived, there are chronological records of each week of filming: where they took place, who was involved, when certain sequences were delayed because of weather or Fox’s Family Ties schedule, and so on. If you’ve ever wondered how in the world they shot the hoverboard sequences, there’s a good reason for that: they used every trick in the book to make it especially hard for audiences to figure it out.

Back to the Future
Marty’s letter to Doc; the handwriting on the envelope is a match, but the letter itself is a little off. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There were only a couple things that bugged me about the ephemera: most of it is glued in on a single corner, and quite a few of them are pasted in so that they cover up text and have to be lifted up to continue reading. The other is that there are a few handwritten pieces that don’t actually match the movie. I paused the movie while watching the first film (for free on Amazon Prime this month!) and noticed that, although the outside of Marty’s envelope matches the movie exactly, the letter itself doesn’t–you’d think that they could have reproduced it from a movie still to get it exact. But, to be sure, those are fairly minor points.

Back to the Future
Some pages have a subtle UV spot finish hidden on them. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After detailing the three films of the trilogy, the book also has a section about the Universal Studios ride (and how it was almost awful instead of awesome) and the animated series, which I don’t think I ever saw.

If you’re a fan of the trilogy, this is an amazing book, and it has been a lot of fun to page through it while rewatching the movies. (And, of course, if you want to own all of the films and the animated series in a light-up Flux Capacitor box, that’s available later this month, too. The price for the Blu-ray combo pack is, of course, $88.) I love “making of” books because they deepen my appreciation for what goes into a movie, even those that I’m not fond of. But when it’s a movie as beloved as Back to the Future, all of those extra details are icing on the cake.

Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.

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