March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Heroic Reads: Supporting Collaborative Summer Library Programs | Focus On

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.


This year, summer reading participants all over the country will explore the ways in which “Every Hero Has a Story.” In libraries, heroic journeys can be found on every shelf, from epic fantasies to realistic family dramas. The hero is one of the oldest and most familiar protagonists to children and, indeed, to stories. Throughout history, humans have venerated and honored their heroes, be they Odysseus on his legendary voyage in long-ago Greece or the first president of the United States, a mere 200 or so years past. Heroic stories have taken many forms, and the summer reading theme is broad enough to be interpreted in different ways. Yet recent media successes point squarely at a uniquely American invention: the superhero. Ask any movie-going child today to name a hero, and then listen as the names of characters from Marvel and DC comics roll off the tongue. The next wave of superhero blockbusters promises to introduce additional personalities to our national lexicon. Once a film has premiered, finding tie-in books about these immensely popular characters is a snap, but what about titles that relate the adventures of heroes not seen on a big screen? Librarians looking to diversify their superhero offerings with heroics that haven’t been branded by a conglomerate will find much to love in the list that follows. Help imaginations take flight this summer by giving readers entirely new heroes to root for. Check out the Collaborative Summer Library Program site.

Early Elementary Grades


ARNOLD, Tedd. Super Fly Guy. illus. by the author. (Fly Guy). Cartwheel. 2006. lib. ed. $17.20. ISBN 9780738383347; Tr $6.99. ISBN 9780439639040; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780439903745; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780545666466.

K-Gr 2–Arnold’s perennially popular Fly Guy shines in his second, heroic outing. When kindly lunch lady Roz allows Fly Guy to hang out with his friends in the school cafeteria, she is fired. Will Fly Guy be able to save her job and the day? The slapstick humor and cheerful illustrations make this early reader a winner.

DELAPORTE, Bérengère & Jean Leroy. Superfab Saves the Day. illus. by Bérengère Delaporte. Owlkids. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781771470766.

PreS-Gr 2–Superhero costumes do not a hero make in this tale of fantastic outfits and less-than-fantastic timing. Superfab misses every chance to save the day because he spends so much time picking out his costume. When a sartorially challenged villain arrives in town, is it finally Superfab’s time to shine? Bright pencil illustrations perfectly complement this humorous tale.

DILLARD, Sarah. Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken. illus. by author. S. & S. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781442453401; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781442453418.

PreS-Gr 2–Warren is an ordinary chick with dreams of superheroics in this early reader/graphic novel hybrid. Full-color illustrations follow our bespectacled hero as he tries to find the strength to beat a crafty fox and save his friends. The text works surprisingly well as a read-aloud, so Warren should find fans in the elementary and picture book set.

FELDMAN, Thea. Gabe: The Dog Who Sniffs Out Danger. illus. by Chris Danger. (Hero Dog). S. & S./Simon Spotlight. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481422383; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781481422376; ebk. $3.99. ISBN 9781481422390.

K-Gr 2–The first entry in a new series, this warm early reader recounts the adventures of Gabe, a bomb-sniffing dog on the frontlines of U.S. military service. The high-interest, true-life story is presented with clarity, age-appropriate language, and engaging illustrations. Young nonfiction readers will find much to appreciate here.

GAIMAN, Neil. Fortunately, the Milk. illus. by Skottie Young. HarperCollins. 2013. lib. ed. $16. ISBN 9780606359658; Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780062224071; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780062224088; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780062224095.

Gr 2-4–An ordinary father is forced to find his heroic side on a quest to pick up a bottle of milk. Generously illustrated with black-and-white drawings, Dad’s increasingly ludicrous tale of aliens, pirates, and dinosaurs recalls Grandpa’s adventures in James Stevenson’s Could Be Worse! (Greenwillow, 1977) and will leave readers giggling long after the story ends. Audio version available from HarperCollins.

HALE, Shannon & Dean Hale. The Princess in Black. illus. by LeUyen Pham. Candlewick. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780763665104; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780763678883.

Gr 1-3–Princess Magnolia is as dainty, perfect, and pinkly attired as a princess should be, until the Monster Alarm rings! Then she ditches the pink for an all-black outfit, and the Princess in Black heads out to save her kingdom once again. The Hales neatly turn princess stereotypes on their heads in this colorful, joyful romp.

HARPER, Charise Mericle. Wedgieman: A Hero is Born. illus. by Bob Shea. Random. 2012. lib. ed. $13.55. ISBN 9780606268073; RTE $11.99. ISBN 9780375970580; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9780449810422.

K-Gr 2 –Bright, bubbly illustrations from Bob Shea add verve to this humorous early reader, the origin story of a comically named superhero. Veggieman wants children to eat their vegetables and grow big and strong but finds fame when an errant stick has children misinterpreting his V for a W.

SLJ1502-FocusOn-Strip-Elem2KIRBY, Stan. Captain Awesome to the Rescue! illus. by George O’Connor. (Captain Awesome). Little Simon. 2012. lib. ed. $14.75. ISBN 9780606263221; Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442440906; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9781442435612; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9781442435629.

Gr 1-3–Eugene is an ordinary second grader with a secret identity. Nobody knows he’s also Captain Awesome, daring defender of good. Will a missing class hamster give Captain Awesome a chance to shine? Large text, simple sentences, and dynamic black-and-white illustrations make this a perfect first chapter book.

MARKO, Cyndi. Kung Pow Chicken: Let’s Get Cracking! illus. by author. (Kung Pow Chicken). Scholastic. 2014. lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780545610629.

Gr 1-3–Copious chicken puns fill this lighthearted romp about a chick named Gordon Blue and his brother Benny. Together, they are a crime-fighting duo out to save the streets of Fowladelphia from evil. Full-color illustrations and graphic elements make this a great choice for kids just beginning to read chapter books.

MORALES, Yuyi. Niño Wrestles the World. illus. by the author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781596436046; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466839540.

PreS-Gr 2–All it takes is a quick costume change for an ordinary boy named Niño to become a “world champion lucha libre competitor!” The delightfully hyperbolic text describes Niño’s battles with foes both demonic and extraterrestrial. Bright pops of color and liberal use of Spanish words make this Pura Belpre winner a surefire hit.

PILUTTI, Deb. Ten Rules of Being a Superhero. illus. by author. Holt. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780805097597; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466882287.

PreS-Gr 2–A boy in costume as the trusty sidekick to his toy Captain Magma imparts the essential rules of good superhero-dom to readers in this funny, knowing tale. Bold, childlike illustrations display Captain Magma’s goofy superpowers: a winning personality, the ability to enjoy a good snack, and solid napping skills.

ROSEN, Michael. Send for a Superhero! illus. by Katharine McEwen. Candlewick. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763664381.

PreS-Gr 2 –A bedtime comic recounting the adventures of amusingly literal- named superheroes (Super-Flying-Through-the-Air-Very-Fast-Man) gets pushed to the heights of silliness through frequent interjections from Dad and his children alike. Will Extremely Boring Man save the day by putting everyone to sleep? A fun, mixed-media tale whose sly humor is sure to please.

Middle Grades

SLJ1502-FocusOn-Strip-MidGrANDERSON, John David. Sidekicked. HarperCollins/Walden Pond Pr. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062133144; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062133151; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780062133168.

Gr 4-7–Drew’s got his hands full with his secret life as a superhero sidekick-in-training, his extremely attuned senses, and middle school. When a villain thought long defeated threatens his world, Drew finds good and evil increasingly difficult to define. Blending a traditional coming-of-age story and an epic battle for the soul of a hero, Sidekicked zips along, brimming with action and lots of heart.

BACON, Lee. Joshua Dread. (Joshua Dread). Random House. 2013. lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375990274; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780307929983; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780375987212.

Gr 4-6–Joshua’s parents breed zombies in the basement and spend their nights trying to take over the world—they’re the Dread Duo, really bad bad guys. Joshua thinks he’s a villain, too, but when his parents are kidnapped he finds himself an unwitting hero. Laugh-out-loud humor and a nuanced portrayal of relationships make this a winner. Audio version available from Random House Audio.

BELL, Cece. El Deafo. illus. by the author. Abrams. 2014. lib. ed. $22.05. ISBN 9780606361484; Tr $21.95. ISBN 9781419710209; pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781419712173; ebk. $17.10. ISBN 9781613126219.

Gr 3-6–This warmly illustrated graphic memoir chronicles the author’s struggles to find friendship and acceptance while learning to use a high-powered hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. After losing her hearing at a young age, Bell finds herself isolated from her peers until she realizes her aid can help her become El Deafo, Listener for All.

JENSEN, Marion. Almost Super. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780062209610; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062209627; ebk. $1.99. ISBN 9780062209634.

Gr 4-6–The Bailey and Johnson families are archenemies, but when the latest generation of kids gets duds instead of useful superpowers on their 12th birthdays, brothers Rafter and Benny find themselves working with their sworn nemesis, Juanita, to save the world. Zany humor and death-defying action sequences power this story of accepting differences to new heights. Audio version available from Blackstone Audio.

KRAATZ, Jeramey. The Cloak Society. (The Cloak Society). HarperCollins. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062095473; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062095480; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780062095497.

Gr 4-7–Alex Knight knows he’s destined to be a super villain—after all, he’s in training with the world’s preeminent villain group. But a budding friendship with a future superhero has Alex questioning his path. Kraatz’s references run wide, from Shakespeare to familiar comic book superheroes, while the climactic final battle sets up sequels readers will clamor for.

MILLER, Jeff. The Nerdy Dozen. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062272621; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062272638; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062272645.

Gr 4-7–Neil Andertol is mercilessly picked on by bullies at school, but in the online world of Chameleon, his alter-ego, ManofNeil, is a hero. When government agents bring Neil and other skilled players to a secret camp, he scores a chance to become a hero IRL. Gaming, adventure, and courage brighten this twist on the kid-spy genre.

SANTAT, Dan. Sidekicks. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2011. lib. ed. $24.50. ISBN 9780606229982; Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780439298117; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780439298193.

Gr 4-6–Captain Amazing’s pet dog, hamster, and chameleon develop superpowers of their own along with an intense desire to be their owner’s new sidekick in this vibrant graphic novel. With the help of a feral cat, will they be able to save the day? Full-color panels, bold lettering, and high-stakes action are sure to satisfy readers seeking adventure.

ZEHR, E. Paul. Project Superhero. illus. by Kris Pearn. ECW Pr. 2014. Tr $13.95. ISBN 9781770411807.

Gr 4-6–Jessie starts a diary to keep track of her busy year, studying heroes at school and creating her own heroine at home. An intriguing blend of diary entries, science facts, and actual letters from contemporary heroes makes Zehr’s novel hard to categorize, but its heart and humor will resonate with readers. Spot illustrations and graphic panels add visual interest.

Young Adult

SLJ1502-FocusOn-Strip-YACARROLL, Michael. Super Human. Philomel/Speak. 2011. lib. ed. $20.85. ISBN 9780606230841; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780142419052; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781101187692.

Gr 7-10–When a mysterious plague wipes out the adult superheroes, three teen heroes and a petty thief have to fight for their lives and the future of humanity against an ancient evil. The action starts on the first page and never lets up, and the life-and-death consequences will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Bloody good fun.

DALRYMPLE, Farel. The Wrenchies. First Second. 2014. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781596434219; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466858664.

Gr 8-10–Two brothers meet a terrible demon in the woods; a boy is drawn into the pages of a comic book; and a gang called the Wrenchies fight for survival in a postapocalyptic world in this absorbing, dark graphic novel. Graphically violent and meticulously illustrated, The Wrenchies takes readers on a grisly journey they won’t soon forget.

KEHOE, Tim. Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret. S. & S. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442473379; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781442473386; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442473393.

Gr 7-9–Shortly after the suspicious death of his mother, a secret government agent, Furious Jones witnesses the assassination of his reporter father. Furious must take up his mother’s super-spy mantle and solve the mystery behind her death if he hopes to see the light of another day. A hero is born in this pulse-pounding espionage thriller.

POPE, Paul. Battling Boy. First Second. 2013. lib. ed. $28.15. ISBN 9780606361255; Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781596438057; pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781596431454. ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781596431454.

Gr 7-10–A new superhero must step into battle in this action-packed graphic novel. Monsters swallow people whole in Acropolis, and a young demi-god from another planet may be the city’s only hope. The intense pen-and-ink drawings recount epic battles alongside emotional complexities such as withheld parental love and the moral ambiguities of government propaganda.

YANG, Gene Luen. The Shadow Hero. illus. by Sonny Liew. (Shadow Hero). First Second. 2014. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781596436978; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466858688.

Gr 7-10–For five issues in the 1940s, a comic book superhero called the Green Turtle defended China from Japan. In this exciting graphic novel, Yang and artist Liew create a new backstory for the forgotten Green Turtle. They pay tribute to his creator Chu Hing’s original intentions in new protagonist Hank Chu, a Chinese-American teenager who becomes the Green Turtle after a tragedy.

Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla is the assistant head of Children’s Services at the Darien Library, CT.



Numbers League. Bent Castle Software. 2014. Version 1.1.0. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPad. $3.99. (Accessed 12/17/14).
Gr 1 Up –Superheroes make math fun in this skill-building app. Each superhero is assigned a number, which must be combined with other numbers (through addition, multiplication, etc.) to capture villains. Increasingly difficult levels will challenge users, while bright, comic book–style graphics entice them to keep playing.

Super Stretch Yoga. The Adventures of Super Stretch. 2012. Version 1.2. iOS, requires 3.2 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad. Free. (Accessed 12/17/14).
PreS Up –An animated, costumed superhero and his animal friends guide children (and parents) through beginning yoga poses. Adorable real-life tots model correct poses in short videos. Explanations of the poses are brief and age appropriate, while homepage navigation allows users to either choose a pose or complete the whole practice.

WordGirl Superhero Training. PBS Kids. 2013. Version 1.1. iOS, requires 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPad. $1.99. Android, requires 2.3 or later. Compatible with Android-based devices. $1.99. (Accessed 12/17/14).
Gr 1 Up –Build vocabulary, pair synonyms, and more in this cheerful app. Male or female superheroes can be created to play through the app’s mini games, with a diverse array of hair/skin colors available. Easy navigation and a wide variety of word-based gaming make this a top choice.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Summer reading and comics are a winning combination. Be sure to promote non-fiction comics in the mix too, as there are so many great reading adventures to be had. Among those I circulate include John Lewis’ March (I and II), Nelson Mandela The Authorized Comic Book, Jim Ottavianni’s Primates, Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen series, Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe (I and II). and Howard Zinn’s People’s History of American Empire. Comics aren’t just “gateway reads” to serious reading, but wonderfully complex complete works just right for summer free-range readers.
    Reading comics from artists like Art Speigelman, Marjane Satrapi, and Joe Sacco put a full measure on every frame and are Superheroes with powers grounded in real life issues and events.

  2. I’m glad there are at least a couple of female superheroes in this bunch but there should be more female superheroes in children’s books! The Princess in Black looks like a good message for girls and I’m looking forward to reading it to my 6 year old.

  3. I wanted to add to the, EARLY ELEMENTARY GRADES, list the Traction Man books, by Mini Grey. Tons of fun!