Tuesday, November 24

Superhero School

by Aaron Reynolds
illustrated by Andy Rash
Bloomsbury 2009

Leonard is excited to hear that his parents have signed him up for superhero school. After all, he has all the necessary superpowers like super strength and heat vision, and regular school was no place for him. But superhero school is full of math. Was there ever anything to drain a superhero of his strength faster than boring old mathematics?

But one day Leonard and his schoolmates arrive to find that ice zombies have seized the school and taken their teachers hostage. Its up to Leonard and his classmates – and the casual application of math – to save the day. And from that day forward Leonard never viewed math as a chore.

As tired as I am of superheroes in children's books – and I still have yet to be convinced this is a genre kids actually seek out – the blending here of math and superheroes is a slight step above the usual hero adventure. The math portions of the story aren't quite so didactic that they would turn off a reader; if anything, they could easily slip past a reader until the very end where the math portions are spelled out, and even then they can be easily glossed over. It seems doubtful to me that the picture book reader this book is intended for would have an awareness of operations like fractions and division, but it's all very simple, very benign.

On the art side of the equation, Rash's sharp and bold-outlined illustrations have just the right feel. Total geek that I am, I really like one spread in particular where images were overprinted to indicate invisibility and the reflections in a window. Whether this was part of his digital collage work or part of the printing process I don't know, but it's a nifty effect that caught my attention. I don't know how else it could be employed, but I'd like to see more of these sort of experiments in illustration.
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