Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Becoming a Superhero...random thoughts


Becoming a Superhero by William D. Smith.

I have to admit that when I read "William D. Smith tells the story of young Billy, a boy who wants to grow up to be a superhero" in the info on this book, I figured it could go either way. Of course, that's true of any book, but I really thought this one had the potential to be a real winner or a real loser. And I'm now happy to report that it definitely falls in the winner category.

It really is a delightful little book, one that both the boys and I enjoyed. Those recommended ages they slap onto books said it was for kids 8-12, but it was quite suitable for my 5- and 7-year-olds. Max wouldn't have been able to read it to himself, but it was perfect for our read-aloud.

The story is a semi-autobiographical telling of the author's life as a boy in a Pennsylvania coal town in the mid-1940s. Billy comes from a somewhat dysfunctional family, but is still surrounded by love. His constant sidekick, and oft-time nemesis, is William, his shadow.

It's a very family friendly book, and yet Billy isn't always an angelic little boy. What kid is, right? William does his darnedest to keep Billy out of trouble, but isn't terribly successful. In chapter after chapter, we get to read about the episodes that make up this 10-year-old boy's life, everything from the soapbox derby to his attempts at flying to "funeral vacations" to his first job as a paperboy to flushing his harmonica down the toilet.

As an added bonus, we get to see a slice of life during the last year of WWII. From a kid's perspective. Billy talks about how he had to save his allowance to buy war bonds, and how he collected scrap metal to help the war effort, and how he loved collecting war trophies, including his prize German army helmet.

And throughout the book, through all the stories, runs this theme of heroes. Billy wants badly to be a superhero. Hence his attempts at flying. He spends a lot of time trying to figure out how one attains superhero status. But as he grows, he learns a lot about who the real heroes are in life. And in one very scary incident, he even proves that he himself is a hero, though that was the last thing on his mind at the time.

Okay, now I have one small complaint to make. The cover really bugged me. The book is about a 10-year-old, and is supposedly aimed at readers aged 8-12. So why does the little boy on the cover appear to be about 3-years-old?!! And don't think this fact escaped Max and Gray either...they were not thrilled about the fact that I was going to read them this book "for babies". I know, I know, the whole judging a book by its cover thing. But why look for trouble, if you know what I mean.

*****

If you have also reviewed this book, feel free to leave a link in the comments, and I will include it here. Thanks.

*****

Read for:

Read-aloud to the boys.

For review.

4 comments:

jpderosnay said...

that sounds like such fun! i can especially relate 'cause i do still to this day fervently wish i could be a superhero! :D

and you're right, the cover is a bit daft considering the context. i can see it putting people right off!

Nymeth said...

This does sound like a charming book :) And I know what you mean about the cover...children really are susceptible to those things. It's similar to that new UK age-banding policy in children's books that authors like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman are trying to fight. If a book is specifically marketed for 5-7 year olds, a 9-year-old who could very well enjoy it will most likely be put off. It might seem silly, but I vaguely remember how important it felt not to do things that were for younger kids.

Trish said...

Glad this ended up being a winner. I agree with what Nymeth says about covers of books--but I think this goes for ALL books as well. I think it is difficult for people NOT to judge by the cover so why pick a lowsey one??

Carl V. said...

You are right, the book cover certainly doesn't seem to fit the story you describe. I can see why they were put off at first. The art director missed on this one.