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Friday, March 20, 2009

I Need a Hero

Children need role models, and picture books deliver! Here I share just a few of the hundreds of possible books which can be combined to create a fantastic study of both real and fictional heroes. You may also want to check out a previous post about Molly Pitcher if you're looking for a strong, true-life heroine. Tall Tales, Myths, Biblical Heroes, and Biographies are other sources you might consider. I discussed further ideas using Heroes from History in another post.

Universal Themes:
Conflict Resolution, Courage, Heroism, Identity, Integrity, Problem Solving

Before Reading Questions
  • What is a hero? What are some adjectives that describe a hero?

  • Who are some heroes you can name from history? What did they do that makes them heroic?

  • Who are your role models? Are role models the same as heroes?
Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman
by Marc Tyler Nobleman

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Depression-era teens, resemble one another enough to be brothers. Along with their similar physical appearances, they share a shyness around girls, an aversion to athletics, and a love for pulp fiction heroes such as Buck Rogers and Tarzan. Who would ever have thought that this unlikely pair could create the much-copied but never equalled Superman? This book chronicles the friends' determination in bringing this super hero to the page, and the resulting birth of modern comic books as we know them.

Extension Ideas: Social Studies
  • Superman appeared as the Depression was drawing to a close and America entered into a World War. Why would audiences so readily welcome such a hero in times like these?
Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas
by Meghan McMarthy

How did a poor Italian immigrant boy named Angelo Siciliano become real-life strong man Charles Atlas? In another unlikely story, readers will enjoy hearing how a ninety-pound weakling (who did, in fact, have sand kicked in his face at the beach) became known as "The World Most Perfectly Developed Man." In addition to his famous mail-order bodybuilding course found in the pages of countless comic books, Atlas also became famous as a model for sculptors. His physique, and often his face, appear on seventy-five statues across the country, including those of George Washington in Washington Square Park in New York City, and Thomas Jefferson in Washington, D.C. This real-life hero's exercise and healthy living routines created a fitness craze across America.

written by Ken Mochizuki ; illustrated by Dom Lee

Donnie is dismayed because whenever his friends play war, he's forced to be the enemy "Because he looks like them." Donnie hates being the bad guy and wishes he could prove to the other boys that his father and uncle had fought bravely for the United States in two different wars. The ending is both surprising and satisfying, but still left open to discussion.

Extension Ideas: Language Arts
  • Students can interview a grandparent or another significant adult in order to tell about "A Hero in my Life." The interview can ask that relative about their heroes as they were growing up.
  • Some students may be interested in learning about the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. A great place to start is Baseball Saved Us, also by Ken Mochizuki. This book tells how baseball raised the spirits of interred Japanese Americans, while providing just enough historical context for some discussion.
Boys Who Rocked the World: From King Tut to Tiger Woods
by the Editors of Beyond Words Publishing

Girls Who Rocked the World : Heroines from Sacagawea to Sheryl Swoopes
by Amelie Welden

Okay, I'll admit it. These two are not picture books. But I love their short chapters, the informative trivia text boxes which appear on every page, and the diversity of heroes and heroines represented. Perhaps the best features of both books, however, are the real-life boys and girls who appear at the end of each selection to answer the question, "How will you rock the world?"

Extension Ideas: Language Arts
  • Many of the people chronicled here have also been captured in picture book. Dragon in the Rocks, for example, details how fossil hunter Mary Anning of England discovered the first full skeletons of an Ichthyosaurus and a Plesiosaurus. Students can search the library for such books, and then compare the interpretations of the picture books with the facts they've collected elsewhere.
  • And those heroes who have not yet been immortalized in a picture book? Have your students design such a book. The class as a whole can draft the text, and then pairs of students can be given text pages (containing just one or two paragraphs) for illustrating.
After Reading Questions
  • How is this person like other heroes we know?
  • Which of our adjectives match her? What other adjectives did this story make you think of?
  • Did he try to become a hero? How did it happen? What circumstances forced him to act heroically?
Extension Ideas: Technology, Art, and Language Arts

I thought the boys in my class would go crazy for this site (and they did!) but the girls loved it just as much! The plan: create a hero who would be the main character (and source of motivation) for a tale of action and adventure.

Hero Factory allows visitors to custom build a hero of their choice (male or female), making it truly their own through countless combinations of hair color, eyes, noses, outfits, accessories, color schemes, and more. (I created the bearded, bald, super-handsome hero shown here in less than two minutes).

My one concern is that the site does allow the hero to have a weapon (although they don't have to be holding one in the completed image). We agreed, however, that this weapon could only be used to fight off monsters, aliens, and imaginary creatures of all hideous and horrendous dimensions, and that no humans would be killed in our stories. The weapon might also be used to battle natural disasters. Additionally, the final image (which appears as a comic book cover) features a name for the hero which is based upon the combined attributes chosen. We agreed that these names could be nicknames, but that we reserved the right to christen our own heroes.

After creating their original heroes, some students returned to the application to create allies and enemies as well. (The site is super-easy to navigate, requires no log-ins, and features no ads of any kind. I still can't figure out who even created the site, or for what purpose!) All students found the activity to be exciting, and their written results were just as creative and diverse as the super heroes themselves.