Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Salute to Super Heroes & Heroines (FAMILY magazine reviews)

If the newest Spiderman movie sparked your imagination, try any or all of these champion picture books for their characteristic intrepid courage, classical ideals, and notable adventures.  While perhaps not all of celebrity status, these daring, determined and spirited individuals demonstrate sturdy personalities and plucky tenacity.  Any or all are worthy role models for young people in need or hope of a suitable hero or heroine.  Touché!

Zero the Hero by Joan Holub 
illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld 
Henry Holt, $16.99, Ages 6-11
            Zero thinks of himself as a superhero, but his friends the other numbers?  Not so much.  Zero is out for the count – he simply isn’t included in counting numbers.  He seems to have value only with other numbers (as in 10, 20, etc).
            He’s especially worthless when it comes to addition, subtraction            or even division.  But he shines when it comes to multiplication -- until he realizes “A real superhero wouldn’t multiply his friends into nothingness.”  And as he considers whether he is in fact a villain instead of a hero, he loses confidence and rolls away.
            Lichtenheld’s clever cartoon characters are differentiated using ink, colored pencils and watercolors to identify and distinguish each personality.  And Holub’s straightforward storytelling text is augmented both by her agile use of language, and witty comments spoken by individual numbers in dialog balloons.
            After Zero leaves, the other numbers note his absence as they play games; adding themselves together, rounding up or down, even comparing themselves to letters.  They don’t realize they are being surrounded by Roman soldiers/numerals until they are forced into a gladiator ring, doubling as a clock.
            When Zero hears his friends calling for help (note the whimsical use of numbers to spell out the word), he hurries to the rescue, outwitting the Roman numerals by demonstrating his skill with multiplication.  This ingenious picture book is a math gem with an inventive resolution.  

Ladybug Girl at the Beach 
by David Soman and Jacky Davis  
Dial, $16.99, Ages 4-6
            Husband and wife team Davis and Soman are spot on with this book from their well-known series about a girl who loves her ladybug costume and wears it often!  Lulu (alias Ladybug Girl, the brave) loves the beach -- however, as her older brother points out -- she’s never been before. 
            Initially impatient “to go swimming in the waves,” when Lulu races to the water’s edge and is confronted with huge loud breakers and seemingly endless ocean, she reacts with a young child’s usual response -- choosing to build sand castles, fly a kite, and plead for ice cream.  Later, watching others play in the water at the sea’s edge, Lulu and her dog, Bingo, decide to get their feet wet, and are nearly knocked over, although no one around seems to notice a problem. 
            Pen and ink watercolor illustrations, with subtle, yet artful use of both brights and pastels, convey a crowded sunlit beach on a breezy summer day, even to the rosy sky at day’s end.  Of special note is the double page spread in the early part of the story: the enormity of the pounding sea dwarfs the girl and her basset hound companion, successfully setting the stage, and resulting in Lulu’s need for her Ladybug Girl courage, to rescue her errant purple pail when the tide comes in much later, as she and Bingo are exploring, digging for pirate treasure.
            Knee-deep in the ocean, having conquered her fears (a watchful Mama standing in the background), Ladybug Girl’s splashing play in the water with faithful Bingo completes the day, lending authenticity to the closing comments with her brother, and making for a satisfying final scene.

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy 
by Jacky Davis 
illustrated by David Soman  
Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-5
            Sam (Ladybug Girl’s sidekick and friend) makes remarkable use of his sizeable imagination during his adventures as Bumblebee Boy – first with Greenbeard the Pirate, later with Fire Dragon, and again with “Giganto, the Giant Saber-Toothed Lion.”   However, Owen, his younger brother, who wants to play “soup hero, too!” repeatedly interrupts.  Sam knows he’s not supposed to be mean, but Owen “doesn’t get it; Bumblebee Boy wants to fly alone!” 
            Once again, Davis and Soman (Ladybug Girl’s co-creators) combine their considerable talents with the use of repetitive language (Bum Ba Bum BUM!) and signature ink and watercolor illustrations.  Owen’s use of his own imagination to foil the “bank robbers” Bumblebee Boy is chasing, and then Sam’s recognition that he is unable to defeat imagined aliens without help, shapes the dilemma. 
            The polarity between Bumblebee Boy in energetic full color, contrasting double page spreads, and the white space-filled pages of literal reality as Owen brings Sam back to the living room of daily life dramatizes the distinction, fuels Sam’s hope to play separately, and ultimately makes the harmonious finale even more convincing. 

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