Storytime: Superheroes!

This is a special bonus newsletter featuring picture books with superheroes or superpowers or super hair or super notebooks. Why a special bonus newsletter? Because  THE MINOR MIRACLE: THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF NOAH MINOR comes out in just three weeks!

I’m super excited to share this book that explores where we get our worth, what we do when we screw up, and the superpower of friendship. Oh yeah, and how you can manipulate gravity. It’s pretty cool. And now, here are reviews for super picture books about super people doing super things. Enjoy!

Max by Bob Graham

This was such a favorite with my kids, and I love that it’s still in print! It’s a book about acceptance, and heroism, and being patient while you try to figure out who you are.

Max is born into a family of superheroes, but he can’t fly. By the time he’s old enough to go to school, he’s just, “an ordinary boy with a cape and a mask . . .” He gets teased and belittled, and then one morning, he’s the only one to see a baby bird fall from its nest and he FLIES to save it!

Once he has his powers, he uses them. He hovers over the school grounds, pulling a long line of his friends, holding hands, into the air, even though they still think of him as “plain and ordinary Max. Well, not quite ordinary. But then, as Aaron said, ‘Everyone’s different in some way, aren’t they?’” That is the crux. His family accepts him whether he becomes legendary like his parents, or goes about doing small, heroic deeds like saving a spider from going down the drain. He’s, “A small hero doing quiet deeds. The world needs more of those.” Yes!


Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom by John Rocco

This is such a weird, wonderful book. Rocco’s source of power is his giant poof of hair, and his three friends are the same. Crazy hair, super powers. Together, they’re unstoppable! But then Rocco gets captured (we see him in the back of a station wagon) and dragged into the villain’s lair (a barber shop). The illustrations are funny and expressive and wry. What we read is over-the-top superhero lingo like, “the big brute stole my powers,” and what we see is the barber, bald and smiling, as Rocco perches on a toy horse with his hair in piles on the ground. In a speech bubble, he mutters, “I will have my revenge.”

Rocco finds out his friends met the same fate. They’ve all been shorn, reduced to black and white illustrations as they meet on the playground, defeated. But then a little girl runs to tell them her stuffed bunny is in trouble, and they’re back in action. Empathy is a superpower, and even without hair, they’re still super!

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

We have a tattered copy of Tacky that’s been much loved by my own kids and at story times over the years. Why is it so beloved? Because it’s funny, and sweet, and satisfying. Tacky is an odd bird. His companions (not friends) are named Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly and Perfect, and they do everything in a dignified, orderly, graceful way. Tacky is loud and goofy. He is not what is expected from a penguin, but that comes in handy when hunters show up to the “land of pretty penguins.”

All the penguins hide, except Tacky, who stands alone. But the bear and his hunting friends are puzzled by Tacky, who claims he hasn’t seen any penguins and then acts very un-penguin like. When the other penguins see that it’s working, they join in for a rousing rendition of a loud, dreadul song that sends the hunters running away. Tacky is celebrated as a hero, he saved the day even though he’s, “an odd bird but a very nice bird to have around.”

The Brave Cowboy by Joan Walsh Anglund

This book also appeared in my newsletter sharing picture books about play, and it’s a classic. It opens with a great line, Once there was a cowboy, and we see a small boy in a cowboy hat. The text goes on to tell us that he was strong and brave, not afraid of coyotes or mountain lions or ornery rustlers. In the illustration, the boy and his “real” world is drawn with black, and what he imagines throughout is drawn in red.

Each day he does ordinary things, like brushing his teeth and feeding his cat, and we turn several pages of black ink drawings, until we enter his world of make believe where all sorts of exciting scenes play out with him as the hero. Things don’t always go well for the young hero, “but he was never baffled . . . he was not afraid . . . and he never gave up.” All amazing superhero qualities.

The Minor Miracle stars Noah Minor, a boy who was a lot like the brave cowboy when he was younger. All his life, he imagined he was a superhero, and then one day, he finds out he can manipulate gravity. But it isn’t the superpower that makes him a hero. Keeping his cool, and being a courageous friend who persists when times are tough, those are the things that make Noah truly heroic.

Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero by Patricia McCormick, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

This nonfiction picture book is text-heavy and takes place in Korea during the Korean War, so best for longer attention spans. It’s one of those books adults will love as well. It tells the amazing true story of U.S. Marines who find a scrawny, hungry mare who ends up helping them in their fight against North Korea. After some training, and snacks (she liked chocolate and Coca-Cola), she learns how to duck incoming fire, retreat, and carry heavy ammunition. She also ate the same breakfast as the men, right down to the coffee, and gradually became one of the guys.

At the Battle of Outpost Vegas, even when under fire and after being wounded with bits of shrapnel, Reckless carried heavy shells up to a cannon on the hill again and again. By the end of the battle she had made 51 trips up the hill, traveling a total distance of 35 miles of steep terrain, carrying nine thousand pounds of ammunition. She was a super horse! The battle changed the course of the war, and the mare was promoted to Sergeant. She’s the only animal to officially hold military rank and received two Purple Hearts. Incredible!

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Can an old woman wandering around with seeds in her pockets be a superhero? Yep. When she was little, Alice told her grandfather that when she grew up, she was going to go to faraway places and live beside the sea. He told her there was a third thing she must do. “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

Alice grew up and became Miss Rumphius. She had adventures in faraway places, eventually settled by the sea, and then it was time to do that third thing she’d promised her grandfather. She spent a summer wandering and tossing the seeds everywhere she went. The next spring there were beautiful lupines everywhere.

Making the world more beautiful is absolutely a superpower. Here in Texas, a superhero named Lady Bird Johnson gifted us with most beautiful wildflowers all along our highways, coloring them indigo, periwinkle, scarlet, coral, and gold. Each spring we stop what we’re doing and take pictures in the bluebonnets. What a super, amazing, fantastic gift.

The Notebook Keeper: A Story of Kindness from the Border by Stephen Briseño and Magdalena Mora

I first reviewed this book in the newsletter about Journeys.

“Our home is no longer a home,” Mamá tells her little girl, and so they head to the border, packing only what they can carry. At the border, they are told to find the notebook keeper who will tell them when they can cross. The illustrations do an excellent job of portraying emotion without getting too heavy for a young child. There is sadness, but there is also hope.

When they find Belinda and her notebook, she takes their name and country and adds them to her list, treating them kindly. It is an everyday superpower we’re all capable of, but we have to choose it. When Belinda gets the chance to cross the border, she chooses Noemí and her mother to be the next notebook keeper because she’s seen that they have generosity in their hearts and kindness in their souls.

The end is hopeful, and an author’s note explains how the real notebook keepers kept records at the San Ysidro Border, where refugees gather to wait admittance to the US from Mexico. They weren’t paid, or celebrated. They were quiet heroes, bringing a small bit of order and dignity to a chaotic and desperate situation. They used the power they had for good. May those ripples of kindness continue to expand as this story is shared.

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