Thursday, August 22, 2013

Captain Awesome to the Rescue! by Stan Kirby, George O'Connor

In the same vein as Roscoe Riley and Junie B. Jones, this book has a superhero theme that will appeal to the grade 2-3 crowd. The main strength of the story comes from eight-year-old Eugene McGillicudy's imagination as he deals with his fears of starting at a new school by embracing his fearless alter ego, Captain Awesome. When Eugene is given responsibility to take the class pet home, his classmate, Meredith, becomes jealous causing him trouble. Fortunately, Captain Awesome knows how to deal with villains in a bold way.

Students love comics and will relate to Eugene's infatuation with his superhero, Super Dude. When Eugene meets another boy, Charlie, who is just as crazy about Super Dude as him, they become instant friends and form a superhero club. Those who love Captain Underpants might take a liking to this tale as Eugene labels the villains in his life such as his baby sister, Queen Stinkypants, and Meredith, Miss Stinky Pinky. Teachers can use it as a lesson in name-calling and kindness, but most grade 2 students know the difference between being kind and mean. This might be a bit off topic, but I have yet to read a book where a teacher immediately punishes a kid for name-calling. Most teachers I work with in the lower grades have zero tolerance for name-calling in the classroom. Kids lose minutes on recess if they make that choice. Teachers can't build solid classroom communities if name-calling is allowed and yet I can't tell you how many books I read where kids are allowed to call other kids names. Kind of interesting.

When Eugene adopts his Captain Awesome persona it helps him deal with his emotions such as annoyance, belonging, and fear. His baby sister is his "archenemy ...Queen Stinkypants from Planet Baby!" and he wails at the thought of her drooling or wrecking his action figure toys. To protect his toys he dons his cape and mask to chase her away.  When Ms. Beasley asks him to say something in front of the class he becomes scared and thinks of her as a new villain named, "Miss Beastly." He feels bad when the students laugh at him and isn't able to talk in front of the class until he puts on his Captain Awesome costume. (Remember that trick next time you have to speak in public.) Again, I'm thinking at our school a teacher would have her morning meeting and students would greet each other and meet new kids in a structured way to build classroom community. Kids have a choice as to whether or not they want to talk. Sometimes it's hard to read books as an educator especially when teachers are presented as insensitive and in ways that don't reflect all the scaffolding that goes on in primary grades. 

For the most part, Eugene sounds young but there were times he sounded too mature for an eight-year-old. I think one of the hardest things with transitional readers is to get the right voice. An adult trying to capture a child's voice doesn't always come off and there can be didactic parts that stand out. When Charlie and Eugene talk about the meatloaf lunch they sound too old. I could see them attack it as superheroes and make a game out of playing with their food. At one point I thought the author might write more like the Junie B. Jones using grammar that little kids use such as when Eugene describes something as the "worstest, awfulest truth", but this doesn't happen throughout the book. So if you are an adult who can't stand reading Junie B. Jones out loud because of the incorrect grammar, don't worry, this only had a smidgeon of that on the pages. Eugene does use slang like "toldja" and dialogue that sounds like a kiddo. Remember, that I'm coming at this book from an adult perspective and biased educator. There aren't many choices of books for young readers and this one is going to "speak" to most youngins'. This is a good addition to any library.

3 Smileys

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