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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
written and illustrated by Marc Tauss
Maleek loved comic books. It was fun to catch up on his fellow superheroes' adventures.
Maleek kept HIS superhero costume in a top secret location.
It concealed his identity when he went out to do his top secret work.
In his laboratory, Maleek invented lots of amazing gadgets. He even built his robot assistant, Marvyn.
--Superhero by Marc Tauss, p. 1-7.
Maleek is not just a boy who enjoys comics--he is an actual superhero. When the city's parks and playgrounds disappear overnight, Maleek has to figure out a solution. He goes back in time, gets some plant extracts, and makes a concoction that makes flowers and plant growth spill out over the city. Tauss' text starts out well; I was immediately interested in a child who not only loves superheroes in comic books but is a superhero himself. However, the text does not gain tension or momentum, and is not quite well written enough to grab me. Still, it's wonderful to see both a child superhero, and a Black child as the superhero (there need to be more of both). Many children dream of being a super hero, and this book can help them identify with that, and dream.
Tauss clearly knows and loves the superhero genre--with super hero costumes and secret identities, time travel, a flying ship, and even a robot all part of the mix. Maleek is the hero when he has to save the day when city parks and playgrounds vanish. However, the problem came too late in the book (the first part comprising of a list of Maleek's superhero attributes), and the solution came too easily; it didn't feel like there was any real tension, or that Maleek had to struggle at all to obtain his goal--he simply went back in time, got some plant abstracts, created a formula, and sprayed it throughout the city. There is also no other character (aside from his robot buddy) and no interaction with another person. I would have liked to see greater tension and to feel that Maleek actually cared about the problem he solved. It felt like there was little or no emotional content or reader involvement. Aside from the photos, the reader never knows what Maleek is feeling or even thinking. Because of this, the story feels a little empty, and it's hard to care for Maleek or to root for him, though I really want to.
Tauss incorporates some fun, imaginative kid-friendly details into his text, such as that Maleek's flying contraption is fueled by soda pop, and that he built his own robot assistant named Marvyn. Superhero fans will also enjoy Maleek keeping his costume in a secret identity, the fact that he even has a secret identity, and that Maleek saves the day. Some humor or creativity is brought in though the names Trauss uses for Maleek's inventionsn, such as gyropod for his flying machine, Time-O-Matic-Whenever-Wherever for his time machine, and Gigundo Juice for his grow-plants formula.
Superhero has both a superhero and a child-environment theme (the playgrounds and city parks disappearing overnight), the latter also being a metaphor for what is happening in many cities, with buildings and concrete taking over, pushing back what green there is. The metaphor is good; it helps bring in another theme, and reach out to a wider audience. And Maleek's solution is refreshingly creative and non-violent. Trauss' closing makes it clear that Maleek saved the day--and that there will be another problem for him to solve another day, which leaves the story open to the imagination, as well as the possibility of a sequel.
Trauss' gorgeous black-and-white photography is crisp, clear, and beautifully set up. The photos appear almost 3-D in their depth, there is great detail, and the fantasy aspects are often cleverly depicted. Some of the photos don't look very real, especially one where Maleek is supposedly flying (it looks very posed).
Trauss has a good sense of composition, with the main character or the most important message or event being the focal point. His sense of lighting is strong, often helping to highlight Maleek. The illustrations vary from full spread to single-page illustrations, and from scenes with so much detail or things happening that you want to look a while, to scenes where there is little or no background, which brings some visual interest. Trauss also plays around with perspective, especially with that of the buildings, making them tower over Maleek at odd angles and seem overpowering.
Trauss clearly had fun creating Maleek's costume, robot buddy, and various contraptions such as his time machine; they have great detail, and are interesting. Humor is brought in through the way the flowers and plant growth begins to take over the city, even appearing on top of tall buildings after Maleek sprays his formula. The flowers also look beautiful in a wild, slightly out of control way.
The end papers are beautiful, and completely fit the story, with ordinary-boy Maleek looking at shelves of comic books in the front, and superhero Maleek looking at the comics in the back.
Superhero will appeal to many a child's fantasy of being a superhero themselves. The artwork is lovely, but the story felt a little flat and unemotional. Still, this is an enjoyable addition to the superhero picture books.
-Added July 17, 2007
Want more books?
Go back to Super Heroes: Feeling Strong Through Hero Identification to find great Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach.
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