Nobleman, M. (2008). Boys of Steel: The creators of Superman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Appetizer: This picturebook explores the biographies of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The story begins while Siegel was still in high school, so he'll be a relatable child-like character (although a bit older than the intended readers). The book shares about their friendship and later partnership as they came up with the idea for Superman, illustrated it and sought out a publisher.
As an adult, I couldn't stop thinking of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which took me an entire semester to finish reading while I was in undergrad. A teacher could take advantage of this by having students consider the number of different ways Superman has been re-imagined (from Smallville, Lois and Clark, Superman Returns, to the speech Bill gives about Superman toward the end of Kill Bill Vol. 2).
Another way to focus on this story is as the artist's journey, showing the inspirations and work it takes to develop an idea.
I liked that the illustrations were done in a classic style with broad shouldered characters that one would expect to see in old comic books (or even in some Dick and Jane series).
This is one of those historical biographies where you know many readers aren't going to engage with the person being described very well. But then, there are those few awkward turtles, who like Jerry, don't have many friends, don't like to participate in sports, are too afraid to even talk to members of the opposite sex.... Okay, so there are a lot of awkward turtles out there who can relate to Jerry. But chances are good they are a few years older than the intended audience. Despite the fact that this book is at a third or fourth grade reading level, it's probably sixth, seventh or eighth graders that will relate to the character the most. At that age, it can be difficult to get a tween or teen to pick up a picturebook. Chances are good graphic novel and comics fans will be willing to take a chance on it, but it'll probably be up to the teacher to put the book in their hands.
"Most days, Jerry Siegel slipped into the halls of his high school staring at the floor. He always wished he was going in the other direction--back home. That's where he could be with his friends. They were an extraordinary bunch."
"Jerry read amazing stories every evening, every weekend, every chance he got. If he wasn't reading, he was watching--the cinemas had no shortage of rousing motion pictures about daredevils who laughed at danger."
"Jerry also wrote his own adventure and science fiction stories. He'd pound away at his typewriter by the front window in his attic."
"While Jerry was typing in his attic, Joe was drawing in his kitchen, using a breadboard as a surface."
"In life, people got pushed around. Children lost parents. Criminals got away. In stories, heroes could prevent all of that."
To Go with the Meal:
A teacher could help adding meaning to this picturebook by exploring the context of the time period and its culture. While doing lectures on the Great Depression, a teacher could also bring in some classic comics of Tarzan or Flash Gordon.
Since Jerry had lost his father in a bank robbery, a teacher could focus on his grief and how he used that energy to help him create his art.
With middle grade students in particular, a teacher could discuss how some people feel excluded or included depending on their interests. Going off of this, a teacher could also encourage students to use books and art as a way to escape their problems.
Students could also research Jerry and Joe in more depth, learning more about their childhood and Jewish background and influences (on a side note, I was a little disappointed that aspect of their biographies was excluded. Sure, there is a brief mention that Samson was one of the inspirations for Superman, but I could have heard more).
Tasty Rating: !!!