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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
written and illustrated by Bob McLeod
BLOWS BIG BUBBLES
(HE'S BALD!/HE WEARS BOOTS!)
CALMLY CATCHES CROOKS
(HE'S SO COOL!/HE HAS A CAPE!)
--SuperHero ABC Bob McLeod, p. 3-4.
SuperHero ABC is a fun, non-violent, and clever ABC book that is infused with super-heroism, perfect for any superhero fan or a young one leaning their ABCs. Superhero ABC is so much more than an ABC book--it brings humor, imagination, the fun of comics, and many imaginative superheroes, making it an enjoyable read for superhero fans as well as beginning readers.
On each page, representing a letter of the alphabet from A to Z, a unique superhero appears (sometimes silly, sometimes fun, sometimes inspiring), their name beginning with the letter of that page, moving from Astro-Man to the Zinger. McLeod also cleverly incorporates the different powers each superhero has, as well as character thoughts and dialogue, and editorial comments, with that letter. The brief text appears along the bottom or top of the spread or page, in comic-book font, as well as through speech and thought balloons, and editorial comments. The speech balloons and editorial comments greatly add to the fun, make the book really feel like a comic book, and help make the book both visually and textually interesting.
The text does not read like a story; rather, there are brief linked sentences or hints of scenes where a new superhero and super power is introduced, with the underlying theme that superheroes help right wrongs and protect other people. The text could become clumsy, with most words in each sentence beginning with the letter it represpents, but for the most part the sentences remain crisp, interesting, and work well, bringing a pleasing alliteration. This also helps underscore the letter on the page, and the sound it makes. Readers may want to quickly turn the pages to see what the next superhero can do--whether it'll be as silly, funny, or inspiringas the last. Interest is also increased through various asides.
The speech balloons and editorial comments bring humor--for instance, one of the editorial comments for the letter B, Bubbble-Man, tells the reader "He's Bald!", and in the adjoining page, C, we see the crook caught by Captain Cloud thinking "Choke!" as he's lifted into the sky, and the editorial comment assures us "He's a cowardly criminal!" with an arrow pointing to the crook. This humor is built on and added to through the deft interplay between the text and the illustrations. For instance, on the first spread there's an alien in a spaceship staring and pointing at the human superhero flying towards him, and the alien shrieks, "Aah! An alien!" when, from the reader's point of view it's the opposite.
The superheroes' powers are fun, age appropriate, and never scary; the superheroes all clearly focus their powers on bad guys or on acts of bravery--Danger Man does daring deeds, Bubble Man blows bubbles at bullies, and Huge Man (a giant) likes helping heroes and never hurts humans. Some of the superheroes' powers are aimed at making younger ones laugh, and it's likely they will bring laughs: one hero objects to offensive odors such as farts (which are unnamed but clear through the illustration), another vomits on villains, another wears his underwear over his uniform. Clear distinctions are also made between the good guys and the bad guys, which may soothe some readers.
There is some sexism in the book--there are 21 male superheroes to 9 female heroes (including two females who are paired with males and appear smaller on the page), the female heroes don't seem that strong, and a few have sexist or unattractive roles (such as just swimming through water and appearing attractive, or another whose "power" is that she yells at villains). There are also very few people of color. Still, McLeod has proportionally included more female heroes and heroes of color than the superhero comic industry does. And even with the sexism, I can't help loving the book. (It speaks to the superhero geek in me.)
McLeod's illustrations are absolutely perfect for the book; the illustrations are done in a superhero comic-book style, and are beautifully illustrated. The illustrations have a great sense of space, perspective, proportion, color, and placement, and bring a cheerful, fun feeling to the book. The illustrations are reminiscent of super-hero comics, with the heroes all looking strong, fit, in great proportion, and beautifully drawn, yet they have a child-like quality to them, similar to 90s-style superhero comics, but with big eyes, open faces, bright colors, some exaggeration, clean, uncluttered backgrounds, and a fantastic sense of placement and visual focal point. The superheroes are often (though not always) smiling, and look protective. Body language is strong and expressive, exagerated at times to make it clear what the superhero or villain is feeling (such as sweat visibly dripping off a law-breaker like rain.) There are also two child superheroes to give the younger reader something to identify with or inspiration; that illustration of two children flying through the air makes me feel good just to look at.
Each illustration has its letter of the alphabet in the top left or right corner, in both capital and small letters, in comic-book style font, and that letter is repeated in many of the words both in the text and in the speech bubbles and editorial comments, which encourages letter recoginition.
The illustrations feel wide and open, with the important characters always in the foreground, the action always visible. Visual interest is kept in each page through the bright colors, the action (and the interplay with the text), and the movement between full spread illustrations and single-page illustrations, some with color borders, some bleeding right to the edges of the pages. Visual interest is also heightened when, in illustartions with colored borders, some part of the character or letter bursts right through the edge of the border. Creative sound effects are also drawn in huge, cartoonish letters, bringing both a visual and textual interest.
Backgrounds are clean, allowing the figures to pop into the forefront; some backgrounds are simple washes of color, while others have more detail showing landscape, sky, or a room, but never overpowering the character or the action. Backgrounds also have less detail and texture, again allowing the characters to move to the forefront. Fine black lines outline the characters, also making them stand out, the width of the line changing for emphasis. There is also a good use of shading to emphasize body shape, folds of clothing, and light and dark. The illustrations have a smooth feel to them, with texture coming in the most in some setting details, such as trees or mountains. Common comic book conventions are used; besides the speech/thought bubbles and editorial comments, there are also lines used to show movement, action, or loud speech; sound effects written in large letters; spandex costumed superheroes with perfect proportions; and more.
McLeod obviously had fun creating his heroes; the costumes and abilities are all different, yet all clearly fitting the super-hero genre with spandex-like suits of different types and colors. Comicbook fans will enjoy seeing the similarities between some of the heroes in this book and those from popular comic publishers such as DC and Marvel such as the Invisible Woman (think the Fantasic Four), Multiple Man (think X-Factor Jamie Madrox), Hawkman (think DC), and Nightcrawler (think X-Men).
The end papers have headshots of all the superheroes in the book, from A-Z, saying their letter, the illustrations in shades of blue, each illustration in its own comic-strip box. This is a wonderful fun touch, and great design. Another nice touch that again perfectly fits the superhero theme and genre is that the author and publisher names on the inside title page are in speech balloons, as is the dedication, and the author/illustrator is drawn at the back above the author information.
This is a truly fun, delightful ABC book, perfect for young ones and also for comic-book lovers and readers who like superheroes and fantasy. ABC books can sometimes be dull, feel forced, or merely instructive--but this ABC book is unique, fun, and funny--there's nothing boring about it. Highly recommended!
-Added May 2007
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Go back to Super Heroes: Feeling Strong Through Hero Identification to find great Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach.
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