Today I Read…Project Superhero

Project SuperheroToday I read Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr and illustrated by Kris Pearn.

Jessie loves superheroes. Completely, utterly, loves them. So she is THRILLED when her grade 8 social science teacher says that their major project that year will be about…can you guess…SUPERHEROES! How cool is that? They have to each choose a hero and research them, and figure out what makes them a hero, and debate with each other over whose superhero is the best.

There are so many to choose from, at first Jessie has a hard time narrowing it down. But one thing is for certain–it has to be a girl superhero. Dylan in her class keeps being a jerk and saying that girls suck and they can’t be superheroes, so Jessie needs to prove him WRONG! And to help her, she chooses the very best superhero of all, strong, smart, determined, resourceful, and a great team player–BATGIRL.

To help her figure out what makes Batgirl a hero, Jessie starts her own training program to become Batgirl. She takes karate lessons from her aunt and tries to eat healthier food because Batgirl has s strong body, does all her homework and learns about all kinds of different things because Batgirl is super smart, and interviews real-live heroes to figure out how and why they did remarkable things, just like Batgirl.

Jessie’s all ready for the Superhero Slam. But Dylan, her nemesis, has chosen Batman for his superhero. Can Batgirl beat Batman?

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This was one of the books I picked up at the Word on the Street festival last year, just because it looked like a really cool book. I was even happier when I found out that the publisher, ECW Press, has a program where if you provide proof of purchase of one of their print books, they will send you the ebook for free. And another nice thing is that Kris Pearn’s terrific illustrations are in colour in the ebook, though the double-page Superhero Slam Brackets are easier to see in the print edition since the pages are printed side-by-side.

I like the idea of studying what makes a superhero. The categories that the students have to study for the Superhero Slam are Wisdom and experience, Physical strength and agility, Perseverance and determination, Critical thinking, Recovery, Courage, Preparation, and Leadership. These really emphasize that what makes a superhero is not just who can hit the hardest (though who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?). Jessie also begins to think about how each of these qualities can be demonstrated in real life, by her family and friends and people she admires.

What really makes this book special are the interviews that Jessie does. She writes letters to real-life heroes to ask them questions about what they did that made them famous and what drove them, how they trained, and of course who their favourite superhero is. The interviews are all actual interviews that Zehr conducted with actual experts in different fields, including:

  • Mike Bruen, retired NYPD Sergeant on duty at Ground Zero for 9/11
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
  • Clara Hughes, Canadian 6-time Winter & Summer Olympic medalist in speed skating & cycling and mental health spokesperson
  • Bryan Q. Miller, comic book writer for Batgirl and Smallville
  • Christie Nicholson, Contributing Editor, Scientific American & SmartPlanet
  • Yuriko Romer, film maker (“Mrs. Judo—Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful”) who documented the life of Keiko Fukuda—the highest ranking woman in Judo history
  • Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut who spent more than 3 months on the International Space Station and has been in space 6 times
  • Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
  • Hayley Wickenheiser, 4 time Olympic medalist in ice hockey and community advocate

The book is written as Jessie’s diary, as a kind of record both of her life and her research. Her project inspires her to make changes in her own life to emulate the qualities she most admires in Batgirl. It also leads her to examine her life and her interests, and think about her future and what she wants to do. Since she likes writing and finding things out, she thinks about becoming a journalist. Different people have different qualities that she admires, and she learns to take the best of everything to make herself the best she can be, as well as seeing the good qualities her family and friends around her.

Superheroes are hugely popular right now, with Marvel’s terrific MCU and DC’s strong tv shows Arrow and The Flash. Sure, the costumes and the powers and the snappy one-liners while they punch out the villain du jour are fun, but the thing about superheroes is, they’re good. They save the world when it needs to be saved. And maybe if more people tried to save the world, it wouldn’t need to be saved quite so much.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

The first day of my diary.

Or first entry. Or whatever.

Grade 8 is already crazier than I imagined it would be. That’s why I started this diary  to keep track of all the craziness. But I think it’s going to be fun. I really like writing: it’s like thinking out loud but in a quiet way. I think maybe I’ll be an author or a journalist when I get older. Or maybe a scientist. Something where I can ask questions and get answers!

But of all the questions I have, my main one is this: why are all the homework assignments and projects coming up already? Didn’t the teachers get the memo that it’s still only the first week of school?

I wish we were kind of “easing into” the year. Maybe gradually introduce some homework as we go along. Like, say, after Halloween or perhaps even later. I’m very flexible on the “later,” just as long as it IS later. It could be as late as March break.

Lots of questions are being asked, and asked too soon, in my humble opinion. (Which I guess isn’t all that humble, since I think I’m right.) But seriously, this early into the year should we really have expected questions like, “Who are you anyway?” and “Who do you want to be?”

Here’s an example from Socials today. Which again, just in case it was unclear, was day 1 of grade 8.

Ms. King, my friendly neighborhood homeroom supervisor and Socials teacher, was giving us some “food for thought” (her words).

“This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What’s the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?”

To which I shot up my hand and answered, “Um . . . obviously because superheroes are way cool!” I didn’t say that actually, and I didn’t shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.

I was so busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.

The big thing is this:

WE ARE DOING A PROJECT ABOUT SUPERHEROES!

She called it the “Superhero Slam”! And guess who’s into superheroes and superhero comics  me! How awesome is grade 8 going to be? Really awesome . . . except for all the homework.

Ms. King went on for quite some time. She was in that teacher-on-a-roll mode. She’s pretty great so far, and I actually like her. But I had gone off daydreaming about superheroes. I’ve read just about every superhero comic book and seen all the movies. But I’ve never really thought about why I like them in the first place. And why they might be important.

I started to think about superheroes in a new way. Like I always wondered if Spider-Man would have still been a hero without his Spidey sense. And although I think he’s a great character, is Batman really a superhero? He doesn’t actually have any superpowers. I guess I’ll get a chance to look into this in detail because we all have to choose a superhero and then argue that our superhero is the best! Cool!

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I started off this diary in September wondering (or being forced to wonder) what I had inside. What I was capable of. Basically, who was I?

I still don’t know for sure. But I do know I feel pretty good about what I could do. And can do. What the possibilities are. Not sure if I really want to become a superhero like Batgirl. (And not just because of what Hayley Wickenheiser said about the costume! Too funny.)

But I do know a lot more about the work and effort needed to do something big. All the people I wrote to this year told me that.

So for my big diary finale here’s my list of the Top 10 Things I Learned From My Interviews. In random order!

* “I don’t think you have to have superpowers to achieve amazing things; we can all do amazing things if we believe in ourselves!”  Jessica Watson

* “Do you ever defeat fears or do you just get used to them?? Well, I guess a little of both. There is no substitute for training and the ­other side of that is there is really no ­substitute for actually doing.”  Mike Bruen

* “I have a real live superhero and that is my mom. She is superhuman to me!”  Clara Hughes

* “You should never go to a place of ‘a girl wouldn’t say that!’ Anyone, of any race, of any sex, can do or say anything. How they behave is based on their past experiences and their current sense of self.”  Bryan Q. Miller

* “What’s best for us is who we are. Each of our challenges is unique and we are uniquely ­qualified to live our lives our ‘best.’”  Kelly Sue DeConnick

* “I believe that you should always go after your dreams, no matter how high or how hard they seem that just makes you try harder!”  Hayley Wickenheiser

* “Today I look around and I see many real ­women superheroes! I hope we keep adding more and more women to our list of ­super­heroes.”  Yuriko Romer

* “We did so much training so we could respond to things we could control if something did happen” Nicole Stott

* “We have to trust ourselves.”  Christie Nicholson

* “There’s a superhero in you.”  Jessie (That’s me. I needed one more to make 10. And I learned this year that this is true.  )

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Word on the Street Toronto 2014 review

This past Sunday was the 24th annual Word on the Street festival, and despite the dire predictions of rain all day long, it was a lovely sunny day (by the time I got there after having lunch with friends). I didn’t end up volunteering this year, since I’m currently working a full-time library job and a part-time retail job, and Sunday was my first day off since Labour Day (for the record, that was 19 days straight of work. Yes, I’m crazy).

It was a hugely busy day–I went by the HarperCollins table 3 times before I could get close enough to see the table, though I wouldn’t expect much else from a $3 and under table. The third Hobbit movie had an artist drawing you as a Hobbit, and the line for that one was very long–a friend of mine waited for close to three hours, and got cut off at the end, and then someone else butted into the line and got her drawing while my friend didn’t. 😦 The TPL library workers had a booth set up to get your picture taken with a cutout of the mayoral candidate of your choice, and information about where all three of the major candidates stand with regards to public library service. Polkaroo was back with the TVO Kids booth–I didn’t get a picture this time, but I swear I saw him!

Oh yeah, and I might have picked up just a few new books…Because when I have two shelves full of new books to read, a laptop full of ebooks, a whole new library where the kids all think I’ve already read every single book in it, and a very large backlog of reviews to write, I definitely need new books. Really, I do.

  • TD and TVO Kids were handing out Boy Soup by Loris Lesynski, with pictures by Michael Martchenko, which was the 2013 TD Grade One Book Giveaway book. It also included a cute activity book for the TVO Reading Rangers Book Club.
  • I bought Bi-Curious George by Andrew Simonian, because it’s bloody hilarious. But I don’t think that I’ll be reading the story of this curious little monkey to Tiny Niece anytime soon. ;p (The review can be found here.)
  • I bought Fan Fiction: The Comic Strip, written by Sam Noir and art by Dave Franciosa, again because it’s hilarious. This one is definitely for nerds with a lively sense of humour about their favourite characters. And Sam Noir was drawing free sketches for people! Here’s mine of Max the vampire bat from Munchsters, his new web comic, with custom rainbow vest!Sam Noir bat
  • I found a cool and (signed!) comic called The Power Within written by Charles “Zan” Christensen and illustrated by Mark Brill. You can buy a paper copy for $4.99 or download a free copy here from the publisher Northwest Press. It also includes some resources and bonus pages from Gail Simone,  Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark, Stephen Sadowski, Dan Parent, Donna Barr, Andy Mangels, and Carla Speed McNeil.
  • I was given a free copy of Freddy and Margewich written by Adena Trevor and illustrated by Chelsea Trevor at the Author Solutions booth–they had been doing free book signings all day for various authors, and at the end of the day they gave away all their remaining books. It’s two short stories in a picture book, and the art is by the author’s granddaughter.
  • I bought Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington because I read it earlier this year and found it a powerful read, about the experience of gay men in Nazi Germany.
  • I bought Project Superherowritten by E. Paul Zehr and illustrated by Kris Pearn because it looked cool. It’s about a girl in grade 8 who loves superheroes and starts researching them for a school project, and it includes her interviews with real-life people including athletes, police officers, comic book writers, and astronauts. (The review can be found here.)
  • I bought Pain, Porn and Complicity: Women Heroes from Pygmalion to Twilight by  Kathleen McConnell, because even though the title implies that there was a woman hero in Twishite instead of a badly-written Mary Sue, she includes an essay on Dark Angel (which was great and cancelled too soon, damn you FOX), and the essay on Catwoman is called “Flex and Stretch: The Inevitable Feminist Treatise on Catwoman” and I’d forgive a lot for that brilliant title. And academic fandom and feminism are both interests of mine, so this book looks right up my alley.
  • And finally I bought Mini Myths: Play Nice, Hercules! by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli, but this one is for Tiny Niece. Hercules is proud that he’s so strong, but he has to learn to play nicely with his little sister and not make her cry.

So, this should keep me occupied for awhile. At least, until the next book fair…