Tuesday, July 15, 2008

a book review for the elementary years

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.


Anonymous said...

Great article! :)

You might like to check out Bayard's range of children's books.

In this month's issues StoryBox has Helen Oxenbury guest illustrating, DiscoveryBox has an Olympics Special and there are also some great Rainy Day Activities!

My kids seem to really be getting on with them well.

Thanks again for the great article!

Anonymous said...

I agree about the cover. This isn't something that would stop me from reading a book, but it sure is irritating! Great review!