Superheroes are huge at our house – and not just the Hulk. Not a day goes by that my son does not dress up as and draw whatever comic book character is his current muse. Trips to the bookstore are spent glued to the comic book section. Last year we went to New York Comic Con – a truly massive event at Javits Center. Despite the crushing crowds, both father and son were enchanted. Needless to say, I have read a lot of books about superheroes and honestly, some of them are vapid and others are completely inappropriate for young children. A few of them are really good, however. So throw on your cape, pull up your tights and check out these gems:
Charlie’s Superhero Underpants
By Paul Bright, Illustrated by Lee Wildish
Sometimes it’s the outfit that makes the man. So, when an unfortunate clothesline incident results in Charlie losing his superhero underpants, he has no choice but to travel the world in search of their whereabouts. Charlie finally finds them on a Yeti in Nepal. The sight of that enormous Yeti wearing child-sized underpants is guaranteed to make any child fall over in a fit of laughter. I like reading this book to preschoolers because the premise is very simple and the story contains no violence.
By Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman, Illustrated by Ron Barrett
Joe was once a wimp, but thanks to his Cape of Confidence, Torch of Radiance and Shield of Invincibility, he has been transformed into a Superhero. He will need all of that bravery to find the “staff of power” (mop) in the “darkest depths” (basement) in order to conquer the “evil black ooze” (car oil) that has attacked his father. Children are attracted to superheroes because they want to feel empowered and special. When my son is feeling scared or weak, dressing up as a superhero allows him to feel like he can control his environment. Weitzman understands this mentality.
By David Soman and Jacky Davis
We can’t forget the girls. Girls enjoy superheroes too, and not just tomboys. In this story, Lulu feels excluded when her parents are busy and she can’t play with her older brother and his friends. So, she becomes Ladybug Girl – protector of ants, builder of forts and walker of tree limbs. Ladybug Girl is “definitely not little!” and neither are the small-sized girls who adore her.
The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy
By David Soman and Jacky Davis
Lulu has a friend named Sam who likes to pretend to be a character named Bumblebee Boy. Lulu is not in this book, but Sam’s adorable little brother Owen is. Owen wants to be a “Soup Hero too”, but Bumblebee Boy wants to “fly alone.” Like all toddlers, Owen is persistent and too cute to resist. This book is one of our family’s all-time favorites.
The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man
By Michael Chabon, Illustrated by Jake Parker
Moving on, it’s time to kick some bad guy butt. Awesome Man and his trusty canine sidekick Moskowitz have a string of nemeses to fight, including a giant killer robot and a flaming eyeball. But what is most amazing about Awesome Man is his secret identity, he is really a… Well, I won’t ruin it for you, but I promise that your kids will love it.
By Bob McLeod
Preschoolers sometimes find learning the ABCs dry and uninteresting, so finding a topic that engages them is important. Both my kids enjoy this alphabet book, which features lots of male and female superheroes with inventive names such as Goo Girl, Multiplying Mike and The Odor Officer. The text is full of alliterations, such as “Water-Woman Weaves Below the Watery Waves. She Winks and Waves at Whales! She’s Wonderful to Watch!”
By Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Andy Rash
Leonard is pumped to attend Superhero School and learn to fight villains, but when he arrives his new teacher, The Blue Tornado, has something else on his mind – math. Leonard can’t imagine why he, a kid with many superpowers, would need to learn about fractions, multiplication or division. But when the ice zombies arrive and kidnap their teachers, the students at Superhero School must put all that math knowledge to work. My son didn’t understand this book in preschool, but now that he is in kindergarten, he enjoys it, as does my eight-year-old daughter. Teachers would do well to read this in their classroom; I can’t imagine a better story to encourage kids to pay attention during math lessons.
My son loves all of the books I just wrote about, but he also wants to know all about “real” superheroes, i.e., the ones his father talks about. DC comics has put out a beautiful and child-friendly series of books discussing several of their major characters. Each of these books focus on the core story of the character and highlight several of their arch-enemies. My son especially adores Wonder Woman; she is powerful, beautiful and always on the side of justice – the embodiment of feminist ideal.
The Amazing Spider-Man: An Origin Story (Marvel Origin Story)
The Incredible Hulk: An Origin Story (Marvel Origin Story)
The Mighty Thor: An Origin Story (Marvel Origin Story)
The Courageous Captain America: An Origin Story (Marvel Origin Story)
Marvel has also produced a line of picture books based on their original comic books. The “Origin Story” series is gorgeously illustrated, but the text is more involved and intense than the DC books. I would highly recommend these books for families who are serious comic book fans, but parents of highly sensitive children may want to steer clear. That said, we own the entire set of books and we read them again and again and again.
2015 Update – Two More High-Flying Titles