Why I Created This Kit
The world of superheroes has been around for a long time, and for good reason. Superheroes embody noble concepts like valiance, justice, doing what’s right…plus they have really cool powers. Telekinesis? Yes, please. Invisible jet? I’ll take two. From a literacy standpoint, there is so much that could be learned through the lens of a superhero, like narrative story elements, the theme of good vs. evil, and character development! Hmmm… I think I just got inspired to make a rockin’ cape with a nice, thick book on the back. Oh yeah.
General Information for Parents
If you grew up reading superhero comic books, you probably know the entire superhero cannon, their powers, and what size leotards they wear. Although I was a comic book fan as a child (Archie was more my style) and could identify the main cast of characters like Wonder Woman and Superman, I didn’t know too much about B and C-list superheroes. (I’m looking at you, Iron Fist.) There were just so many of them that I couldn’t keep up! Luckily, the good folks at Marvel have compiled a list of Marvel superheroes for your own edification. You could find DC Comics’ list here.
It may be important to note that the superhero world has some, um, interesting representations of women, with their barely-there costumes. As such, I choose to expose my boys to more age-appropriate versions of superheroes through Tiny Titans (6+), Marvel Kids (7+), and Teen Titans Go! (8+). There’s also a notable website called Kids Comic Con, established by Alex Simmons. I urge you to check it out; it showcases kid-friendly comics and gives the younger set a voice at popular comic book conventions. Simmons also has a page dedicated to “Color in Comics” as well as a space for young artists to submit their own artwork.
Oh, and CNN recently published a really positive article about the benefits of superheroes. I highly recommend it.
General Information for Children
Okay, so the age-old debate lives on: Marvel or DC Comics? Personally, I say the more the merrier, so bring them all on! However, if you’re wondering whether your favorite superhero is from Marvel or DC Comics, here’s a handy-dandy chart:
What makes comic books its own separate genre of literature? Well, the most dominant factor is the perfect combination of text and images used to tell a story. Readers not only have to read the words, but also “read” images and make inferences about what is happening. So much could be learned from looking at an illustration, especially by examining a character’s facial expression! Another cool thing about comics is that the number of boxes, or panels, on a page can represent different things. A lot of panels often suggest a longer scene with tons of action. Larger frames may be used to set up an upcoming scene or zoom in on a character’s reaction to an event. Finally, the use of speech bubbles is a major sign that you are reading a comic book. A speech bubble has a balloon tail that points to a character’s mouth to let the reader know who is talking. There are also “burst balloons” that are used to show that someone is screaming. Most comic books type the speech bubble dialogue in ALL CAPS and use bold words to show emphasis. If you see a word that is in italics, it signals a non-verbal sound such as a sigh. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Fiction Picture Books:
SuperHero ABC by Bob McLeod
Don’t let the title throw you off; this hilarious book is a must-have for 6-8-year-old superhero fans. Each letter of the alphabet brings a different silly superhero, from Goo Girl to Danger Man. Readers could also use this book to identify certain comic book text features like the speech bubbles and capitalized font.
The Adventure of Sparrowboy by Brian Pinkney
Brian Pinkney is a Caldecott Award-winning author who has created a book that makes readers feel like they, too, could save the neighborhood. Meet Henry, a boy who nearly misses a sparrow on the sidewalk. Suddenly, he is able to fly just like Falconman, his favorite superhero. Throughout the book he saves animals from danger before transforming back to Henry, newspaper delivery boy. In addition to the engaging storyline, I also value this book for its incidental ethnicity.
Meet the Marvel Super Heroes by Scott Peterson and DC Comics Ultimate Character Guide by Brandon T. Snider
These books are perfect superhero encyclopedias. They give full description of more than 100 characters each along with their respective backgrounds, powers, and secret identities. Readers could learn more about their favorite superheroes while discovering new ones.
50 American Heroes Every Child Should Meet by Dennis Denenberg
Superheroes may be fictional but there are everyday heroes who deserve to be recognized. This powerful book for 8-year-olds tells the stories of men and women throughout history that have changed the course of America. One amazing thing about this text is that it focuses on a diverse set of people including Mary McLeod Bethune and Yo-Yo Ma.
Captain Awesome to the Rescue (Captain Awesome series #1) by Stan Kirby
Captain Awesome is, well, awesome. I appreciate that youngsters could read this book and feel a kinship with someone their own age. The main character, Eugene McGillicudy, is an 8-year-old boy who loves superheroes so much that he has a superhero alter ego. This is a chapter book that is perfect for beginning chapter book readers, with its readable text and dominant use of illustrations.
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (Lunch Lady series #1) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Publishers take note: WE NEED MORE FEMALE SUPERHERO PROTAGONISTS FOR KIDS’ BOOKS! Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s proceed with a chapter book that does have a female superhero: Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. The first book in the Lunch Lady series tells the tale of a seemingly innocent cafeteria employee who is actually on a secret mission to discover the truth about a mysterious substitute teacher. This book is lots of fun to read.
The Curse of the Bologna Sandwich (Melvin Beederman Superhero #1) by Greg Trine
My 8-year-old loves Melvin Beederman. He’s a flawed superhero (aren’t they all?) but completely lovable nonetheless. My son’s obsession with Melvin Beederman all started with this book, the first in the series. Superman may have kryptonite but Melvin Beederman has bologna. Yup. You read that correctly. Luckily, he’s able to figure out a way to save the day, despite being trapped in a warehouse with 6,000 lbs. of bologna.
Superhero Comic Book Maker (for iOS)
What better way to parlay all that your child has learned than the Superhero Comic Book Maker app? This app gives children a medium for creating a personalized digital comic book with 55 scenes, digital stickers and animation. I love the feature that allows users the ability to record his/her own narration to accompany the story.
Toontastic (for iOS)
The students in the elementary school where I work can’t get enough of this digital storytelling app. Children design their own cartoon complete with animation, recording dialogue, and background music. It’s easy to use and reinforces the elements of storytelling.
Brave Rooney (for iOS)
This award-winning interactive storybook app is simply delightful. Meet Rooney, a boy who has to go to a new school. The thing is this isn’t a regular school; it’s a school for superheroes! Rooney is worried that he will not measure up to his classmates but eventually finds that he does have his very own superpower that sets him apart from the rest.
To encourage your child to become an active viewer, ask some of these questions before or after watching the movie/television show listed below:
Based on the title, what do you think the movie/show will be about?
What do you already know about superheroes?
If you could have superhero powers, what would you choose? Why?
What is the movie/episode about?
What lesson could be learned from the movie/show?
What superpowers do the characters have? How do they use their superpowers?
What parts do you like best? Why?
Would you recommend this movie/show to a friend? Why or why not?
The Incredibles (Movie)
This movie is one of my boys’ favorites. They love the idea of a superhero family, complete with superhero kids. Now if I could just get them to stop “flying” off the couch…
“Bob Parr (A.K.A. Mr. Incredible), and his wife Helen (A.K.A. Elastigirl), are the world's greatest famous crime-fighting superheroes in Metroville. Always saving lives and battling evil on a daily basis. But fifteen years later, they have been forced to adopt civilian identities and retreat to the suburbs where they have no choice but to retire of being a superhero and force to live a "normal life" with their three children Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack (who were secretly born with superpowers). Itching to get back into action, Bob gets his chance when a mysterious communication summons him to a remote island for a top secret assignment. He soon discovers that it will take a super family effort to rescue the world from total destruction.” (IMDb)
WordGirl (TV Program)
A superhero who “fights” using words? I’m in!
“In WordGirl, a heroic grade-schooler uses her proficiency with the English language to rid her hometown of nefarious intruders. To any onlooker, spunky girl next door Becky Botsford seems no different from her fifth-grade peers. But when trouble strikes, Becky's caped alter ego WordGirl zooms off her monkey sidekick, Captain Huggy Face, to oust the bad guys with her double whammy of brawns and brain. Though she does employ her super strength at times (after all, what else is a girl with a leveling left hook to do?), WordGirl relies more on her grasp of the English language to outwit her vocabulary-challenged opponents.” (Common Sense Media)
The Super Hero Squad Show (TV Program)
Does your little one enjoy fart jokes and silly shows? Then welcome to the perfect TV program. This funny series will have your 6-8-year-old cracking up alongside Iron Man and the Hulk, to name a few.
“Guess who lives in Super Hero City? Yup, it's a whole town full of super-powered crime fighters, all drawn from the Marvel Comics universe. And you know who lives in nearby Villainville -- all the bad guys plotting to take over the world, especially the fearsome Dr. Doom (voiced by Charles Adler). But the formidable villains need an edge if they hope to take on the noble residents of Super Hero City; they need to find the fragments of the famed Infinity Sword, which can bestow nearly-limitless power. In THE SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW, the good-guy team must find the sword pieces first if they want to stop Doom’s nefarious scheme.” (Common Sense Media)
The Spectacular Spider-Man (TV Program)
I love that this show has smart humor that even adults will enjoy. My boys fill the DVR with this one.
“Just getting through high school is hard enough for most teenagers, but in addition to homework, a part-time job, avoiding school bullies, and building up the nerve to ask a girl out on date, Peter Parker also has to battle supervillains and protect his secret identity as the city's newest protector, The Spectacular Spider-Man. This version of the Spidey saga focuses on his early years, picking up at the start of his junior year, shortly after he's developed his amazing powers. The city and its resident bad guys are still getting used to having the web-slinger around, and he's still getting used to his new role.” (Common Sense Media)
Batman: The Animated Series (TV Program)
Since this show is dark in nature and contains some violence, it is geared more to 8-year-old viewers.
“Batman: The Animated Series follows the adventures of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman. This cartoon version, which originally ran from 1992-1995 (it still airs in syndication and is available on DVD), closely mirrors most other takes on the Dark Knight: Bruce comes from one of the most affluent and generous families in Gotham City. As a child, he witnessed his parents' murder -- an event that ultimately leads him to become Batman. As an adult, Bruce is left carrying the responsibility of the family mansion and the family business, Wayne Enterprises; but most of all, he's left carrying guilt, since he blames himself for his parents' deaths. With the help of servant-turned-father figure Alfred, Bruce creates Batman to get his revenge on all the criminals in Gotham. Later on, he's joined by sidekick Robin.” (Common Sense Media)
Encourage reading with a DIY Avengers bookmark. You’ll need three jumbo craft sticks, paints, paintbrushes, black marker, pencil, and paintable sealer. Use this template as a guide and outline the designs onto the craft sticks. Then, following the respective colors on the template, have your child paint each superhero using paint and the black marker (a white marker works well for small white spaces). Once the paint dries, add a coat of paintable sealer for protection. Dry overnight before using the bookmarks in any books. Happy reading!
Create Your Own Superhero
Kids appreciate creative play. Highlight your child’s imagination with a homegrown superhero starting with these questions:
What superpower(s) would s/he have?
Where would s/he live? In a big city? On a small farm?
What special gadgets would s/he possess?
What is the superhero like when s/he is not in superhero mode?
How old is s/he?
What is this superhero’s weakness?
What types of adventures does this superhero have?
Your child may also wish to recreate an existing superhero. Think: Batgirl is now Squirrel Girl. How would this superhero change? The same questions from above would still apply. Sometimes it’s easier for kids to reimagine something that already exists. To make this superhero even more super, design a cool cape. Then it’s off to save the world…or stop a special someone from eating the last cookie.
Suggested Family Experiences
Must-Visit Places for Superhero Fans
American Profile compiled a fantastic list of places across the U.S. that celebrate superhero legends such as Spider-Man and Captain America. Included on the list is the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum in Elkhart, Indiana, and Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure, in Orlando, Florida. We took a family trip to Islands of Adventure last summer and rode Storm Force Accelatron three times. In a row. (Professor X owes me.)
Superhero Finger Puppets
Get crafty with easy-to-make superhero finger puppets.
- Finger puppet patterns
- Different colored felt (black, gray, yellow, red, blue, and light blue)
- Glue gun
First, cut out the finger puppet patterns and place on the respective colored felt, as seen here. After each piece is cut, put glue around the outer edges of the main body pieces. Be sure to only glue the edge to keep room for the fingers. Next, glue on the detail pieces for each superhero. Finally, secure the cape by adding a little dot of glue in the front and back. Once the finger puppets are dry, ask your child to act out an original superhero story complete with a problem and solution. Or, if s/he prefers, reenact a scene from a superhero book, movie, or TV show.
A Letter to a Hero
Talk to your child about heroes in our everyday lives, people who have a positive impact on the world in both small and large ways. Create a list of these brave people. Some ideas include firefighters, police officers, teachers, animal rescue workers, nurses, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa...encourage your child to make the list personal and meaningful. Talk about their acts of courage, kindness, or generosity (Mom helps me cross busy streets; Firefighter Bob makes sure we practice our school fire drills safely; The librarian is friendly and helps me choose cool books). Then have your child write a “You’re My Hero” letter to someone on the list, explaining how that person is a “superhero” to him/her. You may want to use this downloadable superhero paper or simply write on plain paper. Let your child add an illustration to the letter, too.
Superheroes, With and Without Inflation
To add an economical twist, share this “Superheroes Then & Now” infographic. This awesome visual compares the cost of well-known superhero details ($18M Batmobile, anyone?) from time of origin to present day. 6-8-year-olds could be introduced to the concept of inflation by explaining that the value of money causes prices to go up and down. Check out Lillian Hoban’s picture book, Arthur’s Funny Money, which explains this concept even further.
Connections to Other Subjects
An interdisciplinary approach to learning allows children to make connections between various subjects in order to increase learning and meaning making. Superheroes could easily be integrated into other subjects such as music (The Ramone’s version of the “Spiderman” theme song), math (calculating speed), science (the physics of flight; time travel), physical education (running sprints), visual art (the artwork of the great Stan Lee), and social studies (comparing superheroes from different cultures; studying forms of transportation). Researchers state that interdisciplinary learning helps children study a topic deeply and understand the links between subjects.
About Sheila Frye
Sheila is a Jersey girl (or should we say "mom"), with a passion for teaching and literacy. She is Jersey bred, currently living in Montclair. Sheila has 16+ years working as a teacher and reading specialist and recently completed her dissertation on children's literature and technology. We "met" Sheila through her blog, teachingliteracy.tumblr.com.